Waiting for Wetherspoons

Has Wetherspoons lost its enthusiasm for Irish drinkers? Hannah Lemass looks for the scoop.

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With An Bord Pleanála’s decision on the Camden Street location to be released tomorrow, Hannah Lemass looks for the real scoop behind Wetherspoons’ expansion in the capital 

UPDATE: On  18/04/2017 An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the Camden Street branch to go ahead despite concerns from local residents.

 

The British pub group JD Wetherspoon appears to have put its plans to expand the brand in Ireland on hold, despite chairman Tim Martin’s assertion that the Irish locations have been performing well.

The group currently has five pubs in the Republic of Ireland, four in Dublin and one in Cork. They also have four more in development-two in Dublin city centre, one in Waterford and one in Carlow.

JD Wetherspoons reported positive half-year results in March. For the 26 weeks ending 22 January 2017, sales increased by 3.3% and total sales increased by 1.4% to £801.4m (€924.70 million).  

However, these results represent the company’s slowest sales growth in seven years.

Wetherspoons – known for their cheap food and drink prices – operate around 1,000 pubs in the United Kingdom. In the last year, it closed 23 pubs.

JD Wetherspoons’ spokesperson Eddie Gershon told The City that the group is “keen to open pubs on these sites [Camden Street, Abbey Street, Waterford, Carlow]  and also looking for more sites for pubs across the Republic of Ireland.”

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The first Wetherspoons pub to open in Ireland was the Tree Tun Tavern in Blackrock, image by Hannah Lemass

Wetherspoons’ financial reports do not detail separate results for the Irish division of the company.  However, Mr Gershon says that Wetherspoons pubs in Ireland are performing very well and even outperform the company’s pubs in the UK.

In Ireland, Wetherspoon pubs have so far been located in suburban areas, Blanchardstown, Blackrock, Swords and Dun Laoghaire.

However, the proposed Abbey St and Camden Street sites will act as the chain’s first push into an Irish city centre.

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The Great Wood in Blanchardstown, image by Hannah Lemass

Local Resistance

Wetherspoons came to Ireland in 2013 with plans to open 30 pubs nationwide.

However, the group has become reluctant to open in other locations until the planning issues with the Dublin sites are resolved.

Of the opposition to the project Mr Gershon said, “there has been some resistance to the plans, but nothing major”.

In December 2016, a local resident, Barry Chambers lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála against the Camden Street planning application.

At the time Mr Chambers told The Irish Times that “drinking culture has already, regrettably, started to change the character of the area for the worse,” and that the new addition would “completely alcoholise Camden Street.”

Camden Street already has 14 bars and some local residents are concerned that the area is not far off becoming another Temple Bar.

A decision was made on 18 April 2017 by An Bord Pleanála to greenlight the plans for the Camden Street pub and hotel. 

 

Wetherspoons is known for their low food and drink prices, images by Hannah Lemass

 

Planning Problems

In a recent interview with The Irish Times, Tim Martin said that the group were in a state of “limbo” with the two Dublin city sites due to planning difficulties.

The Abbey Street site is a protected building. On 1 November 2016, the planning authority requested further details and amendments concerning waste, storage, ventilation and maintaining the historical virtues of the building.

In October 2016, Wetherspoons received initial approval from Dublin City Council to turn former homeless hostel Camden Hall and several adjoining historic houses into a super pub and 98 room hotel.

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The Abbey Street site that is planned to become Ireland’s next Wetherspoons location, image by Hannah Lemass

Suppliers

Wetherspoons has also faced difficulties in Ireland with their suppliers.

In 2014, Tim Marton said that they had wanted to serve Diageo products in Ireland but would refuse to pay the prices.

This meant that Wetherspoons pubs are without some of Ireland’s most popular alcohol brands including Guinness and Baileys.

Wetherspoons also had a dispute with Heineken which lead the pub chain to import its own supply into Ireland.

However, after a series of meetings the two companies came to an agreement. Their partnership is believed to be worth around £60 million annually.

The chain now offers Heineken-owned Beamish as an alternative to Guinness.

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The Old Borough Wetherspoons location in Swords, image by Hannah Lemass

 

Effects on local business

Local publicans on Camden Street do not appear to be shaking in their boots over the new budget super pub opening its doors.  

A barman from The Bleeding Horse told The City that they welcome the new addition to Camden Street. He thinks that it can only be good for business.

Wetherspoons does not have any music and does not sell some of the drinks that are oh so popular with visitors to Ireland.

So, tourists staying in the Wetherspoons hotel might flood into the adjacent Bleeding Horse for some pints of the black stuff, live traditional music and classic Irish dishes.

 

Rejuvenation

Since Chambers lodged his appeal in 2016, locals now seem more open to the super pub coming to Camden Street.

Wetherspoons shouldn’t add to the already high levels of noise pollution in the area as the pubs don’t play music. They also do not tend to hold late licenses.  

The Camden  Street location will occupy several disused and rundown buildings including the former homeless hostel, the Camden Hall.

According to Mr Gershon, the budget for the Camden Street location is expected to be about €20 million. The project will create approximately 200 new jobs.

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The entrance to the former Camden Hall Hostel that will be become a Wetherspoons pub and hotel image by Hannah Lemass
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Camden street buildings that will be redeveloped by Wetherspoons image by Hannah Lemass

The introduction of the new pubs may offer a much needed new lease of life to both the Camden Street and Abbey Street areas.  

Whether or not you are a fan of the pub chain, J.D Wetherspoons is growing quickly and may be coming to a town near you soon enough.

Some areas of the country are still in need of post-recession rejuvenation. With some of the highest drinks prices in Europe, to many the new addition to Ireland’s pub scene is not a corporate invasion but a blessing.

Featured image by Hannah Lemass

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