POPULAR pub chain JD Wetherspoon is spending £7.8m on creating six new bars in the North East as part of expansion plans to create 1,200 jobs across the UK this year.
The national operator, which has become known for breathing new life into derelict buildings including former banks, cinemas, shops, fire stations and even funeral parlours, will create 240 jobs by opening the new venues, adding to the 35 already in existence across the region.
The company, due to announce its half-year results this Friday, is spending some £1.4m on transforming each venue, where a spokesman estimated 40 to 45 jobs will be created per pub.
A old shop in Seaham, County Durham, is set to open its doors first as The Hat and Feathers, on Tuesday, March 26, followed two days later by a one-time bingo hall in Spennymoor which will now be The Grand Electric.
An opening date of July 9 has also been set for a Wetherspoon pub to open in Cramlington, Northumberland, and work is underway on creating three further bars in a former cinema in Blyth, an old pub in Norton, Stockton, and a shop in Byker, Newcastle.
Meanwhile, the chain has also identified sites in Alnwick, Whickham, Billingham, Newton Aycliffe, Guisborough, Tynemouth, North Shields and Wallsend, and it is still looking for more sites in the region. A spokesman for the firm, which employs 30,000 staff, said the ambitious plans form part of proposals to invest around £35m this year.
He said: “We have identified sites in all of these places and are somewhere down the line in terms of purchasing freeholds, licences and so on, but we are still in the relatively early stages so cannot reveal more in terms of opening dates as yet.
“In general, the company is doing very well and the bottom line is a very simple strategy of opening very good pubs where you can drink and have good food.
“Having had successes in cities, we’re looking at other communities where we can have an impact on the area.
“When businesses see that we have invested more than £1.25m in a particular area, it’s a vote of confidence for the town and hopefully others will follow.”
Plans to bring the former Corn Exchange cinema back into use in Alnwick have been welcomed by councillors, who raised no objections at the end of last year to its plans to take over the Grade II-listed building in Market Street.
However, the local Chamber of Trade says it has serious reservations about the proposal, amid fears that it will harm existing pubs and restaurants by undercutting them on price and taking away vital business.
In January, the group's figures were moving upward with like-for-like sales up 7.6% and total sale up 11.2% in the 24 weeks to January 13.
It expects the operating margin for the half year ending on January 27 to be around 8.2%, which is approximately 1.1% lower than the last financial year.