Site of new south Belfast bar is deteriorating, warns Wetherspoon's boss: But city centre pub given green light
JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has sounded a warning about the "deteriorating condition" of the former south Belfast church which is to become his latest bar, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Wetherspoon's has been planning to create around 100 jobs with two new pubs for Belfast, including one at the former Methodist church on University Road and another in Royal Avenue.
But Mr Martin, who was raised in Northern Ireland, said there are concerns over the condition of the church, which Wetherspoon's is understood to have paid £1.2m for in 2014.
He said the "condition of the building is deteriorating" and the company is keen to get planning permission and listed building consent in order to begin work.
The red sandstone premises has interconnecting church halls and a distinctive tower.
Meanwhile, the company has now received planning permission for its other proposed new pub at the former JJB Sports on Royal Avenue - its 10th pub in the province.
Mr Martin told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are very pleased about that. We have planning permission, and hope to get on site there as soon as possible, and at University Street.
"We don't want to leave them empty too long."
It's not yet clear whether the Royal Avenue pub has received its licence yet.
But Mr Martin said he's keen to get both pubs opened as soon as possible, in order to benefit from the influx of students expected to descend on the city centre later this year. Ulster University is moving much of its Jordanstown campus to its new York Street base in the heart of Belfast city centre.
"It would be great, and it's been dragging on a little bit, so it would be great to get them open, creating around 100 new jobs between the two," he said.
Mr Martin is an outspoken critic of the EU, and earlier this year came out strongly in favour of a Brexit.
He's now one of the most recognisable business faces actively campaigning for the UK to exit the EU.
"It's taking up quite a lot of my time," he said.
"There seems to be an insatiable desire to debate the issue in the media at the moment, which is a good thing.
"But there aren't a huge number of people stepping forward. I think if people think about it hard, and are given the information, they won't vote for less democracy, and I think they will vote to leave.
"It's difficult for them, because I don't think the Prime Minister and Chancellor are being honest in what they are saying."
Mr Martin said the arguments from the pro-EU camp were now "reaching the absurd".