Call for inquiry into cost of ending hotel deal at Wigan's historic Haigh Hall
Wigan Council has been urged to undertake an independent inquiry into the taxpayer cost of ending the lease of Haigh Hall to Contessa Hotels back in 2021 – costing millions.
The local authority won a High Court battle against the hotel operator in April 2021 after trying to kick them out of the historic site for more than a year when they failed to uphold terms.
Coun Bob Brierley raised the motion for an inquiry during a full council meeting at Wigan Town Hall after claiming the situation had now got out of hand.
He believes the council should have done more to protect the asset and stop the taxpayer losing out in the future.
“I put this motion in because the situation with Haigh hall is getting out of hand,” Coun Brierley told the Wigan councillors. “This estate needs protecting.”
He referenced chandeliers which he does not believe have been replaced with a like-for-like material by Contessa – and asked why police have not been brought in to what he deemed was theft.
The council had to pay the hotel company a multi-million pound sum to end the lease.
Coun Nazia Rehman, portfolio holder for finance, resources and transformation, responded to the motion by saying that an investigation into what happened is still ongoing.
She also stated that the contract was given to Contessa initially with the thought that they would improve the building and make it a better space for visitors.
“By 2019 it was clear there was no intention to complete the work promised,” Coun Rehman said. “In the cabinet meeting in August 2019 it was decided that the clause [to end the contract] should be used.
“At the time the right advice was taken and proper procedures were followed and we did the right thing. It was something that could have benefited our residents, but they did not deliver.”Coun Michael Winstanley, from the opposition, was happy to hear there would be a full report on the matter and asked for it to be published in public.
“We want to make sure this mistake does not happen again,” he told the chamber. “We talk about how good we do things here, but we also need to shine a light on the things that don’t go right as well.”
Coun Stuart Gerrard thought that the council should have acted sooner to avoid the issue and hoped that they would learn from this matter.
Coun Brierley said the response he got was good but still had concerns about the missing items.
“You have wasted millions on this thing and we have a great asset here in Haigh hall,” he concluded.
The motion for an independent investigation was rejected due to the fact that an investigation into the matter was currently ongoing.
A planning application to make external improvements to the historic building has been submitted by the council, but a decision has not yet been made.
The council is currently considering how the hall could be used in future and are working with artists Al and Al to draw up plans.