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JD Wetherspoon plans to open bar on Belfast's Royal Avenue site of former JJB Sports outlet

By John Mulgrew

Published 27/04/2015

Tim Martin
Tim Martin

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin says he's "hopeful" about the success of a planning application for his latest Belfast city centre pub.

Plans are now one step closer for the pub chain to turn the former JJB Sports store in Royal Avenue into a bar, after details of the application were published.

The company has applied for a "change of use from retail premises... to public house" - which would see it become one of two new Wetherspoon pubs in the city.

And the bar chain's chairman - Tim Martin from Northern Ireland - told the Belfast Telegraph that work could begin on the site in around six months if the application is granted.

"Because everything is subject to planning and licensing, it's never guaranteed.

"But we are optimistic that we have a reasonable chance of the go-ahead.

"If it went smoothly, it would probably take six months before we could go on site, and then a further four or five months for the pub."

Around 100 jobs could be created as a result of the latest pubs in the UK-wide chain's portfolio.

Wetherspoon is investing between and £3m and £4m in the Royal Avenue and University Road outlets, after buying a former Methodist church close to Queen's University.

And as far as opposition from traders and bars close by, he said the "prospect of investing and creating jobs is broadly welcomed".

"But it's hard to say anything beyond that - we are not always welcomed with open arms."

Last year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the former JJB Sports store - which closed after the company went into administration - had been bought by JD Wetherspoon.

If successful, the pub is likely to benefit from a influx of students due to descend on the city for the new Ulster University campus by 2018.

That will include more than 12,000 students, along with 1,300 staff.

Wetherspoon paid around £1.2m for the lavish and historic former Methodist church in south Belfast, which is due to become its second new bar in the city.

JD Wetherspoon currently operates nine bars across Northern Ireland, with just one - The Bridge House - in Belfast city centre.

And the chain also recently opened its first outlet in the Republic - The Three Tun Tavern - in 2014. It already operates more than 900 pubs across the UK, and has further plans to expand in the Republic.

Just last month, Wetherspoon reported a drop in profits after being squeezed by supermarket competition and a hike in pay and bonuses for pub staff.

The company said sales were 4.5% higher on an underlying basis in the six months to January 25, but profits before exceptional items fell 1% to £37.5m.

And Mr Martin - who attended Campbell College in Belfast - reiterated his concerns that the pub industry continues to be at a disadvantage, as, unlike pubs, supermarkets don't pay VAT on food sales.

Belfast Telegraph

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