Belfast not on cards for Wetherspoon expansion plans
The Wetherspoon chain, which recently announced plans to open 18 new pubs as part of a £145 million investment, has no plans for a new venue in Belfast in the near future.
Chairman Tim Martin said the group is confident about its growth prospects in Ireland, despite Covid-19 restrictions and no reopening dates for pubs.
Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford have been identified as sites for new venues but Belfast is not in the short term plans despite the company’s recent acquisition of the former Café Vaudeville premises on the city’s Arthur Street.
The property is currently let to the Revolution Bars Group and trades as Revolucion de Cuba and a spokesman Wetherspoon confirmed Revolution Bars hold a long lease on the venue.
Eddie Gershon told The Irish News: “The licensing system in Northern Ireland reduces the level of investment from companies wishing to open pubs there.
“It is easier to get permission to build a pub in London, Dublin and Edinburgh.
“We would have opened new pubs in Belfast many years ago if it wasn’t for licensing issues.”
Wetherspoon chief Tim Martin, who went to school in Belfast, earlier told LCN that operating in Northern Ireland is “incredibly difficult”.
He said: “It’s incredibly expensive to open up a new business there with the licensing laws. To pay the licence and pay the objectors. It’s a couple of million.”
The chain currently operates four premises here and plans to open a pub in a converted Methodist church on University Road were withdrawn due to fears around likely costs.
Mr Martin added that he thought the public here would probably like to see more Wetherspoon outlets but added that the system was “designed to protect vested interests”.
“It’s the way the UK was 30 years ago. The money is going away from that economy, which isn’t right. It is, quite frankly, an antiquated licensing system.”
The Irish Examiner quoted Mr Martin as saying, “Whereas a slow reopening increases financial pressure on all businesses, it hasn’t affected our expansion plans. We plan to open new pubs in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford in due course.
“We’re confident about the bigger cities – Dublin and Cork have been very successful. We don’t know yet about smaller towns, where a lot of our pubs are located in the UK. Carlow is the smallest town we’ve opened in [in Ireland]. It had a slow start, but picked up before the pandemic.”