Wetherspoon boss eyes more NI venues after licensing law changes

Wetherspoon boss eyes more NI venues after licensing law changes

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has told LCN the pub chain is likely to open new venues throughout Northern Ireland when new licensing laws are passed.

Proposals to extend opening times, end curbs on Easter drinking and to potentially make it easier to get a drinks licence passed their latest stage at Stormont earlier this month and could become law from October.

In an exclusive interview, Martin told LCN: “Would we open some more premises? Probably. And others probably will too.

The JD Wetherspoon chain currently operates four premises here but recently announced plans to open 18 new pubs as part of a £145 million investment, with Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford all identified as sites.

“We tried to open a pub in the old church on Belfast’s University Street and also one on Royal Avenue and it’s a quagmire really,” said Martin.

“It’s quicker and cheaper to get a pub licence in London, Dublin or Edinburgh – which is not good for Belfast and investment.

“I think it’s a bit old fashioned to try and protect existing interests to the extent that happens so I think there will be more investments in the licensed trade overall if an easier planning and licensing regime is instigated.

‘Too many impediments’

“There’s definitely the potential – certainly in Belfast and probably other places as well.”

The 66-year-old Northern Ireland-born entrepreneur also told LCN  that hospitality had taken a severe hit during lockdown and that any roadblocks to investment were completely nonsensical at the current time.

“If there are too many impediments to investment it puts people off. It will be good for Northern Ireland if those are reduced.

Wetherspoon’s Central Bar in Carrickfergus is one of the chain’s few NI premises

“It’s time for change and there will be some pent-up investments if licensing regulations change. That’s been true in Dublin in London and elsewhere and it will be true in Belfast.

“I think there are significant dangers to hospitality in people having slightly changed their habits during lockdown.

“Pubs and restaurants are starting on the back foot because they have not got much money and they are starting a time when it’s more expensive to trade because there are restrictions.

“Pubs and restaurants have been shut and need money spent on them. I think once the euphoria is over publicans will have to work hard over a few years to rebuild their finances and to invest in their premises and to attract customers back.

“Pubs are resilient though and have been around for hundreds of years and I’m sure overall a vibrant sector will emerge.”

To read the full exclusive interview interview with Tim Martin in the forthcoming edition of  LCN sign up here >>>http://eepurl.com/deVW