First Leisure restructure gives investors pounds 170m

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The Independent Online
SHAREHOLDERS in First Leisure are set to pocket pounds 170m as the company wraps up its re-structuring programme with the disposal of its bars and nightclubs division.

The price tag is pounds 70m more than analysts' forecasts and allows the group to focus on its health club operations, which it plans to double to about 45 centres over the next three years.

First Leisure said its 65 nightclubs and bars would be sold to Whizalpha, a management buy-out vehicle backed by Candover, the venture capital group.

It will inject its remaining health and fitness clubs into a newly formed, listed company, Esporta, and simultaneously delist First Leisure. First Leisure shareholders will receive 170p in cash and one Esporta share for each First Leisure share that they hold.

The deal will mark the end of chief executive Michael Grade's involvement with the company. First Leisure said the former head of Channel Four would oversee the deal until completion, expected at the end of January, and then make fresh plans.

"The announcement marks the culmination of the strategic review we embarked on earlier this year," John Grieves, the First Leisure chairman, said.

First Leisure shares closed unchanged at 219p on Friday, 19 per cent down on the year-high of 265.5, touched in late April. Graham Coles, finance director, will replace Mr Grade as chief executive; Patrick Henchoz, head of the fitness operations, will become managing director, and Mr Grieves will remain as chairman.

In the past year, First Leisure has disposed of its interests in ten- pin bowling, theatres, resorts and bingo.

Mr Coles said Esporta would commit at least pounds 100m to develop the business through to 2002.