Northern Ireland booze laws hold back economy, claims Wetherspoons boss
Tim Martin still waiting approval of new Belfast pubs two years on
The founder and chairman of pub chain JD Wetherspoon had said there was still no movement on two proposed Belfast bars because of Northern Ireland's "arduous licensing procedures".
Mr Martin said the sites - at a former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue, which had previously been refused a licence because of a "technical issue", and a church building on University Road - were being held back because of taxing licensing application procedures here.
He purchased both sites more than two years ago.
"It's a worry because it's slowing down investment in an important sector and therefore slowing down job creation," he said.
"It certainly is quite a difficult process and it's like the UK was 25 years ago. It's more arduous than Dublin or Britain.
“I think we’ll have a pub, or two, opened in Dublin before Belfast and we acquired the Republic of Ireland sites long after the Belfast ones,” said Mr Martin.
The businessman, who owns five pubs in Northern Ireland and lived here during his childhood, also said he was pleased the company was granted planning permission for the former Methodist Church site on University Road — a conversion project that could potentially create 100 jobs.
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Mr Martin paid £1.2m for the building.
“It’s a similar story to our site on Royal Avenue. We eventually got planning permission, for which we are grateful, but we really can’t start work until the licence is granted.”
He said he will be reapplying for licences for both projects, though they may be “a way off”.
Wetherspoons made the headlines yesterday when Mr Martin made a “commercial decision” to deactivate all of its 900 social media accounts.
He said the move also takes account of recent concerns over the misuse of personal data and the addictive nature of social media.
“We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business,” he said.
And he doesn’t expect it to damage earnings.
“I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers,” Mr Martin said.
He said the chain would continue to be “as vocal as ever” through its magazine, as well as keeping the press updated.
He added that it would “definitely not” be advertising.
“Pubs don’t advertise. You might see the odd one that does, but we don’t,” he said.
JD Wetherspoon’s recent accounts showed a rise in half-year profits. The group posted a 36.1% rise to £54.3m in the 26 weeks to January 28, with revenue rising 3.6% to £830.4m and it said like-for-like sales rose 6.1% in the period but warned of lower sales over the next six months.
Mr Martin said that growth in comparable sales will be lower over the next half of the year as it stomachs an array of costs including the minimum wage increase.