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New round of sales for licensing trade

John Martin

Following a couple of sluggish years, there was greater movement in the local licensed premises market during 2012 with 50 properties changing hand in deals negotiated by Osborne King.

The most noteworthy sales included Beannchor Ltd's acquisition of 15 licensed premises, formerly belonging to the MAR portfolio, which included a number of notable properties such as The Stables, Groomsport, Portaferry Hotel, The Bryansburn Inn and The Hillside in Hillsborough.

In Warrenpoint, three well-known licensed premises, Jack Ryan's, The Square Peg and The Boat House Inn came under new ownership while in Belfast, the Spring & Airbrake/Katy Daly's and Limelight group of properties was sold after six months on the market.

Hotel sales included the Lansdowne Court Hotel, Belfast, the Fort Lodge, Enniskillen, and the Coast Road Hotel in Carrickfergus while the infamous Lock Keeper's Inn at Shaw's Bridge, Belfast also changed hands.

Unfortunately, the majority of sales completed during 2012 were due to receivership/administration disposals. Many of these licensed premises ceased trading as a direct result of business declining, however, in some cases, debts arising from other property-related ventures forced operators to sell up.

The fact that licensed premises are changing ownership is encouraging as old, tired pubs can be revitalised with new management carrying out refurbishment and introducing different themes.

An example of this is the former Hunter's Bar on the Lisburn Road, rebranded by Beannchor as Cuckoo, which is doing extremely well.

Without doubt, 2013 is off to a promising start as I have just agreed the sale of a portfolio of 15 licensed premises to a new operator in the Northern Irish market.

Hopefully, 2013 will be a turning point where the market improves resulting in a more "natural" sale of properties although I am not overly optimistic that business will improve significantly.

The fact remains that until banks start having confidence in the future of the licensed trade, life will continue to be challenging for all concerned.