Planning delays halt Wetherspoon’s Irish expansion

Rising property prices and planning issues prompt pub group to rein in acquisitions

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin: “We’re seeing excellent trade in Ireland, particularly in Dún Laoghaire.” Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin: “We’re seeing excellent trade in Ireland, particularly in Dún Laoghaire.” Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

 

A planned new bar and hotel from JD Wetherspoon in the Camden Street area of Dublin, which will be the most expensive property the chain has opened, is unlikely to open for at least a year, according to the group’s chairman, Tim Martin.

The group, which operates more than 900 pubs in Britain and has five bars in Ireland, acquired the Camden Hall property in late 2014. It intends to open a 100-room hotel and pub on the site as part of a €4 million investment.

However, Mr Martin said continued delays relating to planning permission meant the bar, and a second one on Abbey Street in Dublin, would not be opening any time soon.

Profit increase

Mr Martin, who founded JD Wetherspoon in 1979, was speaking as the group announced a 12.5 per cent hike in pretax profit for the 12 months ending July 24th.

The pub chain entered the Irish market in 2013 with ambitious plans to open up to 30 bars locally. However, planning delays and rising property prices have led the group to revise down the number of pubs it intends to acquire.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Martin said that while the bars in the Republic were “all doing fantastically well,” it would be some time before others opened.

“We’re seeing excellent trade in Ireland, particularly in Dún Laoghaire, and things are improving week by week,” he said.

JD Wetherspoon acquired a former Baptist church on Abbey Street for €1.47 million late last year and plans to amalgamate it with a former TSB bank branch nearby which it bought earlier in 2015 for €1.5 million.

Dublin expansion

The group had hoped to open the two additional Dublin venues this year but Mr Martin said that now looked unlikely.

“We’ve got the Camden Street and Abbey Street projects on the go, and both of those are very expensive and until we have opened those we don’t plan to do anything else because there’s so much money tied up in them,” he said.

“The Camden Hall building is listed and I can sympathise that everyone wants to ensure that a good job is done on it so that it is in keeping in character with other buildings in the area, so it’s taking a long time. We’re doing everything we can to get it open but we think it could be early into next year before we get the permission and then could be another year to build.”

While the group has rolled back on its plans to expand in Ireland, it has recently made a number of bids on properties. Mr Martin said that with prices so high the group had to be patient.

“If we can get the two big bars open we can look at opening up a few smaller ones elsewhere. We’d like to open in the likes of Limerick and Galway but we’ll just have to see how we get on in Dublin first,” he added.

JD Wetherspoon on Friday reported full-year revenue that rose 5.4 per cent to £1.6 billion and like-for-like sales growing 3.4 per cent.

Mr Martin founded JD Wetherspoon in 1979. Since its flotation in 1992, earnings per share before exceptional items have grown by an average of 14.4 per cent a year and free cash flow per share by an average of 16.2 per cent.

Mr Martin said since the year end, Wetherspoon’s sales had increased by 4.1 per cent.