Belfast Telegraph

Wetherspoon’s founder hopes for even more Northern Ireland pubs

By Rachel Martin

Pro-Brexit pub boss Tim Martin says Belfast could have room for another two JD Wetherspoon pubs — on top of its two existing projects.

Mr Martin, who went to school in Northern Ireland, said there could be an appetite for another two pubs in the city centre. 

JD Wetherspoon is already planning two new pubs in Belfast — the chain bought the former JJB unit on Royal Avenue and a former Methodist Church on University Road.

He said that Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and Cathedral Quarter were two areas where he saw potential for the brand — but added that no immediate plans were in place.

Mr Martin said the chain’s two Belfast projects will set the company back by £3.5m, with the majority ring-fenced for the renovation of the listed former Methodist church.

Permission has been granted for the Royal Avenue site, but it still needs a drinks licence, while the Methodist Church site is still in the planning system.

It’s expected the plans will bring around 100 new jobs to the city.

Mr Martin said he was not shocked by the referendum result and said he was not worried at the prospect of an exit from the EU.

The chairman was an outspoken backer of the Leave camp, and toured 100 of the company’s pubs in a bid to convince customers that the UK would be better off outside the EU.

“I’m very pleased by it. I think the EU is undemocratic and becoming increasingly more undemocratic with five unelected presidents,” he said.

“I’m hoping that Brexit will be sensibly carried out, but it can’t be done overnight. I know our main political parties have been preoccupied by leadership issues, but by the end of the summer plans should start to be put in place.”

And Mr Martin rejected reports that problems with planning and property prices had put the chain’s expansion plans in the Republic on hold. In Dublin, its biggest project — a 100 bedroom hotel and pub complex on Camden Street — is still in the planning system. Mr Martin said he hopes to open a further six in Dublin — four in the city centre and two on the outskirts. 

“The property market has definitely been heating up and it’s getting more difficult to acquire, but we are very much still pressing ahead with the plans,” he said.

“Within reason we would look at some more sites — another one or two in Belfast and several in Dublin.”

The firm currently runs 920 UK pubs — including nine in Northern Ireland.

Its latest trading update saw like-for-like sales rise 4% in the final quarter and increase 3.4% over the year.

He said he felt that the UK needed a Prime Minister who could not be intimidated and had found one in Theresa May. 

He said he had not been asked to meet her for a pint yet — but added that this had also been the case with the country’s previous leaders. And he has criticised former Chancellor George Osborne, the IMF, the Bank of England and a host of other organisations, blaming them for a potential slowdown following the EU referendum vote.

“In my opinion, the above individuals and organisations are either dishonest or they have a poor understanding of economics, since democracy and prosperity are closely linked and the EU is clearly undemocratic,” added Mr Martin.

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