The boss of British pub operator JD Wetherspoon has said “volatile” commercial property prices are putting the brakes on the company’s growth plans in Ireland.
Wetherspoon’s five Irish-based pubs – located in suburban Dublin and Cork city centre – weren’t mentioned in the group’s latest trading update, yesterday, but speaking after its publication, founder and chairman Tim Martin said they are currently performing well and the group remains committed to expanding in Ireland.
However, he said the wait for planning permission for acquired sites and high prices being quoted for potential new sites are slowing Wetherspoon’s growth here.
“If you have a volatile property market, you are unable to dictate the pace [of growth] unless you over-pay.
"The Irish property market has heated up a lot in the last year and it’s a very tight market, particularly in Dublin,” he said, refusing to say the group’s Irish plans are now effectively on hold.
JD Wetherspoon currently has four sites – two in central Dublin and one each in Waterford and Carlow – either in varying stages of development or awaiting planning approval.
Mr Martin said approval for the two Dublin sites, in Camden Street and Rathmines, would provide a major boost for the company, but any new opening in Ireland remains some time off.
He said the group continues to look for a number of new Irish sites and could still grow its portfolio here to 30 pubs. However, he said reaching that kind of number will take “a good few years” and that things are slow regarding new site acquisitions.
He added that Wetherspoon had a bid for a third central Dublin site turned down in the past week.
Yesterday’s trading update showed that Wetherspoon’s total sales for the 11 weeks to July 10 rose by 5.5%, year-on-year.
It added that the group “remains in a sound financial position,” with net debt at the end of the current financial year (which runs to July 24) likely to be around £670m (€795m).
The group expects to have opened 16 new pubs by the time its financial year closes.
Around £13m of exceptional, non-cash losses will be incurred for the year, mainly associated with pub disposals and closures.
The group operates more than 900 bars across the UK and Ireland.
Mr Martin – a big advocate of Britain leaving the EU – said the Brexit result will not affect Wetherspoon’s Irish plans, but said the vote was “the right result” as the EU is “becoming increasingly undemocratic”.
He added it is creating “huge economic problems.”
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