'Antiquated' licensing laws behind Northern Ireland exclusion from £200m Wetherspoon boost
Northern Ireland will miss out on a share of a £200m investment by JD Wetherspoon creating 10,000 jobs over the next four years because of its limited licensing laws, its boss has said.
Tim Martin, the Northern Ireland-educated founder and chairman, said licensing laws here were "frustrating" and "expensive".
The boost to its portfolio includes new pubs and hotels, while existing pubs across the UK and Republic will be enlarged with the new investment.
Wetherspoon operates 875 pubs and 58 hotels across the UK and Republic, employing 44,000 staff.
Most of the investment will be channelled into developments in small and medium-sized towns, but will also include larger towns and cities.
Mr Martin, who has been an outspoken backer of Brexit, said: "We are opening new premises in Galway, in Dublin and in Waterford and there will be a certain amount of investment into existing buildings. It's been incredibly difficult for us in Northern Ireland, the licensing system there needs to be reviewed.
"It's incredibly expensive to open up a new business there with the licensing laws. To pay the licence and pay the objectors, it's a couple of million," said Mr Martin.
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Wetherspoon has four bars here and also bought the freehold of Revolucion de Cuba in Arthur Street in Belfast for £3.25m.
But he said plans to trade on University Road were on hold after Wetherspoon had withdrawn its application to convert the Methodist Church.
"We don't want to pay £2m for a new licence there. We always keep everything under review but it's sad that we have to build elsewhere rather than being able to invest more in NI.
"The money is going away from that economy, which isn't right. It is, quite frankly, an antiquated licensing system.
"I'm sure the public would like to see [more Wetherspoons] in Northern Ireland but it's a system that is designed to protect vested interests. It's the way the UK was 30 years ago," he said.
Mr Martin said he was a little worried about the outcome of the election tomorrow and would be voting for Conservative Party candidate and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. "Wetherspoon has done well under both Labour and Conservative Governments, but I'm worried that if Jeremy Corbyn got in because I think he prefers state control, I'm worried that his methods are not designed to be business-friendly," he said.
"I'm voting Boris. I think the EU is becoming more and more undemocratic. There is a lot of rhetoric around and emotions are running high with Brexit issues. Boris is a middle-stream politician, he will keep the show on the road and the market economy.
"I think for all the peoples of Europe, there will be more democracy if we leave the EU. I will be glad if we leave it - it will restore democracy."