Luminar near £600m deal with Northern Leisure

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The Independent Online

A £600m nightclubs group is set to be created through the long-awaited merger of Luminar and Northern Leisure.

The companies are today expected to announce they are in talks. It is thought that it will be an all-share deal, structured as a takeover of Northern Leisure by Luminar.

It is understood that the full details of the transaction will not be finalised until the two companies have seen the details of the Government's proposed changes to the licensing laws.

The on-off talks are understood to have resumed about a month ago. The prime mover behind the deal is thought to be Nick Oppenheim, the former chief executive of Northern Leisure, who holds 10 per cent of the company directly and through control of trusts.

One source close to the situation said: "This is the deal that the whole of this sector has been waiting for. It has happened much quicker than people thought it would. We are a lot further down the road than most expect. Oppenheim wanted to get things moving."

Stephen Thomas, the highly rated chief executive of Luminar, will take the helm at the enlarged group, which will be called Luminar.

The logic of the merger is based the need to build up critical mass in the scale of operation, which would strengthen the company's hand in dealing with suppliers, especially the large brewers.

Nightclubs is a fragmented sector. Luminar and Northern Leisure are already the biggest operators, and a combination of the two would tower above the other players.

The Government will today publish its White Paper on licensing reform. This follows a review of the laws that govern the consumption of alcohol. It will put forward the Government's views on this politically and socially sensitive subject, with new proposals on opening hours and red tape.

Reform will have a major impact on the pubs and clubs sector. For instance, allowing pubs to stay open longer gives them the chance to take custom away from night clubs, which are at the moment often the only places to serve alcoholic drinks after 11pm.

Luminar and Northern Leisure own about 250 clubs and restaurants around the country in a variety of formats, including the Jumpin' Jaks and Chicago Rock Cafe formats.

Northern Leisure has announced a disposals programme, which includes Hot Shots, a snooker bar format. These divestments may now be reviewed.