Whitbread's Country Club Hotel Group (CCH) will today be revealed as the new operator of Hanbury Manor, the five-star hotel, golf and country club near Ware, Hertfordshire.

CCH has secured a 10-year management contract with Poles Ltd, the 96-bedroom property's holding company, and is purchasing a 26% stake in the business for an undisclosed figure.

Included in the agreement is an option to review CCH's stake after five years. Although both sides were this week playing down the implications, it seems highly likely CCH will raise its equity after that point.

Longer term, CCH also plans to increase the number of bedrooms at Hanbury - the property currently has planning permission for a further 23 - and may add a second 18-hole golf course.

For the moment it will concentrate on plugging Hanbury into the Whitbread network, so that synergies in areas such as purchasing, sales and marketing can immediately be brought to bear.

Patrick Hedderman, general manager of the Tewkesbury Park Hotel Country Club Resort in Gloucestershire, is being transferred to Hanbury as hotel operations manager, with an as-yet unnamed executive director to be placed in overall charge of the complex.

For Country Club, Hanbury neatly fills a big gap in its portfolio between Kent and Birmingham. "It's an important strategic deal," said CCH managing director Alan Parker, who is also rumoured to be looking at Selsdon Park, near Croydon, Surrey.

While Hanbury is a notch above the rest of CCH's portfolio, Mr Parker said he had no intention of reducing standards at the five-star property to fall into line with the group's other resorts, which are all four-star. "It will maintain its market level," he said.

Poles chairman Paul Leach, the millionaire house-builder behind the £28m development, said taking on Whitbread as a joint venture partner would bring "the financial and marketing muscle necessary to manage Hanbury effectively".

That is something the outgoing management company, Florida-based Rockresorts, found increasingly difficult as its portfolio plummeted from 32 properties when Hanbury opened four years ago to just two. Its 18% stake in the venture was bought out by Poles last week.

Although Hanbury has proved something of a financial black hole thanks to the Gulf War and the recession, Mr Leach is confident the corner has been turned. Turnover in the current year is set to be well ahead of last year's £6.4m, with room occupancy averaging about 63%.

With Whitbread as a joint venture partner, and the economy on the up, he is hoping both those figures will begin to see a steady improvement.

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