Sale of 1,400 pubs angers licensees

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The Independent Online
Inntrepreneur, the ill-starred pubs group jointly owned by Grand Metropolitan and Fosters Brewing, is selling 1,410 of its 4,500 pubs for pounds 262m.

It is placing the pubs with a newly created company, Spring Inns, but hopes to sell them on to a third party.

Angry Inntrepreneur licensees, who have been fighting the company over what they perceive as unfair rent levels, were hostile to the deal, saying it was little more than a refinancing that would also help protect Inntrepreneur from pending litigation over the leases.

Nigel Cairns, who runs the Wheatsheaf pub in Bristol said: "Its really just a refinancing package. Inntrepreneur would dearly love to sell the pubs but it can't find a deal at anything like their book value. This deal is just a financial hotchpotch."

Mr Cairns, who represents the Bristol Licensed Victuallers Association also said fear of litigation might be another factor.

He said Inntrepreneur was already facing many cases brought by frustrated leaseholders. Though these cases will remain with Inntrepreneur, any new litigation would now be brought against the new company.

He added that the deal would make little difference to leaseholders, who would be in the same pub, paying the same rent with a tie to buy the same beer.

Inntrepreneur denied that the deal was a ring-fencing attempt. It said the group had more pubs than could be effectively managed. Reducing the estate would enable investment and time to be more accurately targeted. Many of the pubs are in East Anglia, rural Kent and Cornwall or in towns and cities where the company feels it has too many outlets.

The company said the Spring Inns deal was not being backed by Inntrepreneur but by bank funding.

It is seeking a single buyer for all 1,410 pubs but if no buyer can be found for the entire estate, then it will consider selling individual pubs to existing occupants. The funds will be used to reduce Inntrepreneur's debts as well as to fund further investment.

Inntrepreneur's chief executive Mike Foster said: "Since IPCL became an independently managed business, it has become increasingly clear that the current size and the geographical spread of our estate will limit our ability to ensure focused use of our resources."