Campaigners welcome Wigan Council's victory in Haigh Hall dispute
Haigh Hall campaigners say they are “delighted” that Wigan Council won a High Court trial allowing it to end a lease with a hotel operator.
The local authority is set to take back control of the historic building after a judge ruled its decision to terminate the lease and evict the firm running the venue was valid.
Judge David Hodge QC agreed with the council’s claims that work to transform the hall into a hotel was not completed by an agreed date, despite Scullindale Global Ltd disputing this, saying it was running a four-star hotel.
It was a decision welcomed by the Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access for All (FOHHHOA), whose members had concerns about the way the site was being run.
A spokesman said: “The FOHHHOA are delighted that the council has won its case to terminate the lease with Scullindale Global Ltd to operate Haigh Hall Hotel. The judge was clear in his decision that the company failed to complete the hotel development, in the agreed timescale of May 2018 as specified in the lease.
“Despite the council allowing the hotel an extended period of a further 16 months to September 2019 to complete, it failed to do so, and therefore a break notice was served. The judge decided that the failure to complete the development was solely of the company’s own making.
“Initially we were excited at the prospect of the hall becoming a hotel, but unfortunately Wiganers were never made welcome by the new hotel. In fact the hotel went out of its way to restrict public access to the grounds along the main route through the estate, despite Lord Crawford placing a covenant on the land to allow unfettered public access, in perpetuity.
“A drive or walk to Haigh Hall is a Wigan tradition for people of all ages. It is where we play, explore, picnic, relax, exercise, get married, socialise and enjoy nature. We therefore look forward to engaging with the council regarding any future development of the hall, once the lessee has vacated the premises.
“In addition, we are pressing ahead with our public right of way application to formally place the route from the Plantation Gates on Wigan Lane to Stocks Gate on School Lane, Haigh (the main drive through the Plantations and around the hall) on the council’s definitive map. Over 7,000 supporters signed a petition to make this route a public right of way. If we are successful, this route will be protected as a public right of way for future generations.”
Town hall bosses took their case to the High Court after Scullindale remained in the historic building, despite the council using a break notice in the contract in 2019.
The case was against Scullindale, as well as director Amir Madani and Craig Baker, from Haigh Hall Hotel Ltd,
A 12-day trial was held remotely, followed by several weeks of deliberation, before Judge Hodge QC published his judgement on Thursday.
He said the authority’s use of the break notice was valid and that Scullindale was in breach of the lease when it failed to give up vacant possession of the building.
He said: “For followers of Wigan Warriors, I would adjudge the final score to be in the order of 20-6 to the council. (Followers of Warrington Wolves may have reason to recall that score.) For followers of the Latics (Wigan Athletic FC to the incognisant) the score is probably in the order of 4-1 to the council.”
He dismissed the claim against Mr Baker and Mr Madani.
A further hearing will be held to determine a final order, including the date on which any order for possession should take effect and costs, as well as any application for permission to appeal.
Judge Hodge QC continued: “I would invite the parties to consider whether the terms of this judgment may assist them in coming to some form of sensible accommodation over the future of Haigh Hall.
“The world has changed considerably since the cabinet first resolved to determine the lease on August 29, 2019. The Covid pandemic means that the council will have to pay Scullindale over a million pounds more than Haigh Hall is presently worth when it comes to vacate the property.
“Scullindale has delivered a first-class hotel and wedding and events venue in an appropriately, and splendidly, restored and refurbished Grade II* listed building.
“It has become clear during the course of this trial that there are tensions between the ability to operate the hall successfully and profitably and maintaining unrestricted public access to its grounds, which IHL and the council will need to address but which they are likely to find difficult to resolve. Even at this late hour, the council may feel that permitting Haigh Hall Hotel Limited to operate the hotel business and act as a buffer between itself and the public, but with more clearly defined, but restricted, rights of public access, may prove to be a sensible, and more cost-effective, way forward.”
The hall was subject to a lease agreed by the council and Scullindale in May 2016. It was to run for 199 years and £400,000 was paid to the council.
The trial heard from two valuers, one who believed Haigh Hall to be worth £4.2m when the lease was terminated, while the other said it was worth £5.19m. More calculations were requested ahead of the final hearing.
Scullindale claimed to have spent £4.4m on the hall.
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