24 October 2018

2018 to date has seen sporadic activity in the licensed sector with limited supply of public house and hotel sales in the marketplace.   Barring a number of provincial public houses sales only a small number of hotels have been transacted to include two trading hotels outside Derry City namely The Waterfoot Hotel and more recently The Beech Hill Hotel.  Osborne King also completed the sale of the Lansdowne Hotel in North Belfast in July which is still currently closed awaiting refurbishment prior to a re-launch.  We don’t foresee any great change in supply although we expect more provincial licensed properties coming to the market to continue. 

Apart from the well-publicised growth and development of hotels throughout Belfast this year the market for liquor licences has been relatively good.  Osborne King have been involved with a number of sales/surrenders of licences for clients who primarily owned provincial pubs and who then closed their establishments following a successful application.  The majority of purchasers for these licences originate from the convenience store sector.  These retailers are seeking to expand their customer product offering within their convenience premises which ultimately is another consumer draw to enhance footfall.  

In respect of liquor licence sales many publicans should be aware that their licence must be updated with the licensing court with any physical changes to the premises.  Anyone wishing to sell their licence will need to make sure their licence is valid and subsisting.  Many publicans believe that their licence is “clean” with no issues but often this is not the case.  Importantly a purchasers solicitor will make the appropriate enquiries to a vendors solicitor before entering into a contract.  These enquiries would include the following:

  • A request for the up to date copy of the licence.
  • A copy of the plan lodged with the relevant Court Office with any alterations to the footprint.
  • Any objections or suspensions relating to the licence.
  • Proof of alcohol purchases, payment of commercial rates and its trading hours.
Furthermore a purchaser is likely to carry out a physical inspection of the subject premises prior to any contractual commitment.  Clearly my advice to a publican looking to sell their licence is to make sure their house is in order to avoid delays in the sales process once a potential buyer is found. 

Another recent trend in the market has been the purchase of licences by distillers and brewers.  A number of our local operators have been left with no choice but to acquire a publicans licence to enable them sell liquor to their visitors.  I have recently sold a licence for a client and this was acquired by a very well know distillery. The total associated costs of such an acquisition would have been £100,000 plus to include the licence, legal, planning  and associated costs.  I have other similar transactions in the pipeline.  The Government in the Republic have recently passed The Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries ) Act 2018.  This Act allows breweries and distilleries to sell alcohol manufactured on the premises to tourists and visitors who have participated in a guided tour of the premises.  The Act also allows premises that obtain a relevant licence to sell intoxicating liquor produced on the premises for consumption off the premises to persons who have not completed a guided tour. This will be welcomed relief to Irish manufactures but unfortunately locally any alteration to our licensing legislation is unlikely to occur anytime soon with the lack of devolved government. The Irish government recognise that this is a growth market from tourists wishing to explore our distillers and brewers wares.  Unfortunately local legislation forces operators to acquire a publicans licence to develop their business from this emerging market.

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