Haigh Hall Hotel boss tells court hearing brides faced 'abuse' as they visited Wigan venue

Brides looking to book their weddings faced abuse as they travelled to Haigh Hall Hotel, a court heard.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 9:48 am
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 9:50 am
Haigh Hall

Hotel boss Craig Baker detailed some of the problems faced after a deal was made with Wigan Council to turn the historic building into a four-star hotel and wedding venue.

He claims that several issues caused delays to work to transform the building, including contractors not being able to get there because of the number of people outside.

Mr Baker gave evidence as a hearing in the High Court entered its second week looking at the future of the building and the deal between Skullindale Global Ltd and the council.

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An agreement to revamp the hall and open a hotel was made,but council chiefs decided to use a break notice in the contract in 2019 amid concerns about the work being carried out and alleged breaches of planning permission.

Mr Baker claims there were delays in work being carried out because of issues with the council, including having five different building control officers and incorrect signage being erected.

And he said changes were made to the way the business worked after its annual accounts showed a loss of £5,000, which he blamed on the abuse faced by potential customers as they arrived at the hotel.

Mr Baker said: “Brides that come up the driveway and get varying levels of abuse on their way to the property might book elsewhere. That’s part of it.”

He said the landscaping work not yet being completed, which would have made the area look more attractive as couples arrived, was also a factor.

Mr Baker also claimed machinery carrying steelwork could not be used at the hall due to the number of people outside, which he described as “impossible to deal with”.

He said fencing at the building was pulled down by members of the public and some were “obstructive” when he was travelling along the driveway towards the hotel.

He said signage erected in the area directed people towards the hotel grounds, rather than other paths.

Mr Baker said it was “impossible” to comply with all of the conditions imposed with planning consent within the required two years.

The court was told that £5m had been spent on renovating the hall to convert it into a hotel, which included £850,00 on materials, £2m for contractors and £920,000 for fixtures and fittings.

Some of the items could be removed by Skullindale if it went on to sell the hotel, but others would remain.

But Martin Hutchings QC, representing the council, disputed the amount spent on the building after going through hundreds of invoices, highlighting that included bills for notices in the Wigan Post regarding planning permission and £10,000 on servicing by Rolls Royce.

Mr Baker did not have any contracts with individuals or organisations doing work on the hall, with deals made verbally, and he did not have any warranties, the court heard.

Mr Baker is claiming damages of £1.73m, which includes £66,542 for refunds made when weddings were cancelled after the council used the break notice in the lease.

There were bookings for 80 weddings when this happened.

Mr Hutchings QC said many of these would have been cancelled anyway due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mr Baker disputed this, saying almost all weddings at another hotel he runs had been postponed.

He denied suggestions by Mr Hutchings QC that he had chosen to focus the renovation work on public areas of the hotel so weddings could take place, before carrying out work on the bedrooms.

Mr Baker said many couples travelled from outside the area and only chose venues with bedrooms.

Mr Baker told the court he did not arrange for surveys to be carried out on the hall or a valuation to be done before making the deal with the council, instead relying on his expertise from work on other historic buildings.

But he admitted he did not have any formal qualifications in this area.

He said: “I could see what we were dealing with and my experience with these kinds of buildings and surveys is there is always going to be something that’s missed on the survey.”

Mr Hutchings QC questioned whether the hotel was entitled to its four-star rating when prohibition notices were in place regarding the use of the rooftop terrace.

But Mr Baker disputed this, saying he had complied with the notices and having a rooftop terrace was not a requirement.

Mr Baker was also asked about white lines painted onto the driveway approaching the hotel, which Mr Hutchings QC said caused an “absolute furore” among members of the public.

He said he was told the driveway had to provide two-way access and members of the public must be aware that cars could use it.

“We need to show people it’s a road so we put white lines on the edges and a white line in the middle,” Mr Baker said.

He said the work cost £4,000 and the council was aware it was being done.

The court heard he was later told the paint could be removed, but he did not do this as he believed it would be a breach of planning

consent.

The case is expected to finish on Friday.

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