Unsettling times for Newcastle's leisure industry

IT’S been another 12 months of turmoil for the leisure industry, with a number of high profile businesses in the sector entering administration.

IT’S been another 12 months of turmoil for the leisure industry, with a number of high profile businesses in the sector entering administration.

Waverley TBS and MWB Group Holdings (owners of Hotel du Vin and Malmaison) are two of the most recent and both have significant representation here in the North East, albeit the hotels themselves are unaffected.

On top of this, the much-talked about beer duty escalator was finally debated in Parliament, only for the Treasury to almost immediately announce that it had no plans to review the tax.

However, it’s not all been bad news, with several new bars and local operators going from strength-to-strength.

Local pub company, Wear Inns, has secured a large equity input to help it expand its ever-growing ‘community’ pub portfolio.

After a slight delay, BrewDog opened on Dean Street, bringing craft beers to a welcoming audience in a funky, modern atmosphere, well-removed from the traditional perception of ‘real ale’.

Fluid Group has opened Hood Street Club, a chic basement venue inspired by the secret drinking dens popular in capital cities around the world. On Collingwood Street, the Apartment Group has strengthened its presence with The House of Smith, described as a VIP nightclub inviting you beyond the velvet rope and into his private lounge!

There have also been continued hotel openings and announcements, with Roomzzz and Motel One committing to outlets on Clavering Place and High Bridge respectively.

Hotel Indigo also opened in May this year on Fenkle Street and Sleeperz on Westgate Road launched at around the same time.

The intensification of Grey Street as a key dining out location continues, with Browns Bar & Brasserie opening in April, Café Rouge currently shop fitting and a planning application recently submitted by Oro, owners of El Torero, for change of use on the old Bonham’s premises.

Another major hurdle that is coming into view for the leisure industry in Newcastle is the city council’s proposed review of its licensing policy.

At the current time, the council has adopted a cumulative impact special policy, relating to five areas of the city and especially two city centre special stress areas (the areas around Collingwood Street and Mosley Street, which are known as ‘the diamond strip’; Bigg Market; The Gate; and the area around the Centre for Life, Westmorland Road, Marlborough Crescent and Scotswood Road) where the policy is that no new licenses will be granted, except in exceptional circumstances.

The proposals are likely to go out for wider consultation and are expected to contain elements such as earlier closing hours for night clubs and café bars, and a rise in the cost of drinks. This earlier than required review has come about following feedback to the council from the police, residents and other partner organisations in the city.

The concern from operators will be, that forcing existing operations to close earlier may impact on the 19.2 million people who visit the area and the circa £346m per annum that the leisure trade ploughs into the local economy.

Newcastle is renowned as a party city, and calling time earlier may well influence the punters’ choice of destination when other locations such as Dublin, Liverpool or Edinburgh continue to allow their offering to trade late into the night.

Whilst there are clearly social concerns, such as the cost of dealing with excessive alcohol consumption estimated at £149m a year between the NHS, crime and policing, the workplace and social services, it is clearly a difficult balancing exercise in a sector so vital to the city’s economy.

:: David Downing, Partner for Leisure, Sanderson Weatherall LLP


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