Wigan council terminate Haigh Hall lease with controversial owner

Council leader David Molyneux shakes hands with Craig Baker, director of Contessa Hotels, when the deal was first struck
Council leader David Molyneux shakes hands with Craig Baker, director of Contessa Hotels, when the deal was first struck

A hotel company running Wigan’s jewel-in-the-crown stately home has been given its marching orders.

Fed-up council chiefs’ patience finally ran out with Contessa after a long-running series of complaints from members of the public.

It was announced that the local authority wants to terminate the company’s lease with them because it had failed to honour the terms of it.

Further details have yet to be revealed but the issue to make the most headlines has concerned access to the grounds when weddings are held at the premises, with a gate barring wheelchairs and prams, much to visitors’ anger.

A promised spa and luxury resort also failed to materialise as part of the £6m project deal signed with the town hall; it wasn’t used as a hotel for holidaymakers; only event guests and for a period the fire brigade intervened when it was pointed out that it wasn’t properly equipped with fire escapes so no-one could sleep in upstairs rooms (this was later resolved).

Indeed the 94-year-old Lord Crawford in Scotland recently broke his silence to express concerns over the access situation.

Trying to turn what were partly neglected and expensive-to-maintain premises into a business while maintaining the estate around it for public use - as stipulated by the Crawford family when they were gifted to Wigan - was always going to be a tricky balancing act.

But the Friends of Haigh Hall were at almost constant loggerheads with the management, recently staging a peaceful picnic to remind them that this was still “their” place.

Around 2,000 people signed a petition, criticising changes at the hall and there was another row about the painting of a dotted white line down the main drive which some felt spoilt the look of the parkland and was likened to an airport runway.

Hotel director Craig Baker said the markings had been introduced to reduce the potential for conflict between park users and guests - after 15mph signs were persistently ignored by guests and pedestrians.

“It is disappointing because this has all been done for the right reasons. The issue here is change," he said.

Work had been undertaken to create separate footpaths to the hall for pedestrians, he told the Wigan media, and that the pathway complied with disabled access legislation and avoided the need for park users to use a more elevated route nearby.

But a Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a break notice has been served on the tenant of Haigh Hall, seeking to terminate the lease of the Hall.

“This is due to a failure to comply with terms of the lease.

“Further details will be provided in due course.”

It is believed that this action is not related to the events at Haigh Woodland Park this weekend when 62-year-old Alf Wane suffered multiple fractures in a cycling accident after watching the Tour of Britain and the ambulance found its way blocked temporarily by the aforementioned gate.