Wetherspoon facing planning delay on project to turn south Belfast church into pub
JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has admitted that a project to turn a south Belfast church into pub will likely be delayed.
The company is planning to create around 100 jobs through two new pubs in the city, including one at the former Methodist church on University Road, which is a listed building, and another in Royal Avenue.
The project has already faced significant difficulties, with Northern Ireland-raised Mr Martin warning of the "deteriorating condition" of the church.
And now, in a fresh blow, the Department of Communities' Historic Buildings Division (HED) wants to see amended drawings and detailed plans of the proposed pub before work can even begin.
"The HED requires amended drawings and further clarification to allow for a comprehensive assessment of the proposals," a spokesperson for the department stressed.
"This is to ensure that the detailed design is in keeping with the listed building."
Mr Martin told the Belfast Telegraph: "It sounds as if it will (delay the pub). But with listed buildings, you have to do what you are asked to do. It can take a long time, but there's no alternative but to comply."
Mr Martin also reiterated previous comments that he would press ahead with the two Belfast pubs and another two in Dublin, despite recently selling off a number of bars. Earlier this month, his company offloaded five pubs across the region to homegrown business Granny Annies, which has set its sights on expanding.
The Old Courthouse in Coleraine, The Spinning Mill in Ballymena, The Linen Hall in Enniskillen and two Londonderry pubs were all let go.
Wetherspoon, which is known for its low-price food and drink, will continue to run four pubs, in Belfast, Newtownards, Lisburn and Carrickfergus.
Mr Martin previously admitted there were concerns over the church, for which his company is believed to have paid £1.2m two years ago.
He said the condition of the building was "deteriorating" and emphasised that Wetherspoon was keen to get planning permission and listed building consent so that work could begin as soon as possible.
The business has received planning permission for its other Belfast development, at the former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue in the city centre.
The former church was built in 1865 to a design by WJ Barre. The red sandstone premises has interconnecting church halls and a distinctive tower.
Mr Martin is an outspoken critic of the EU, and earlier this year came out strongly in favour of Brexit.