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Vaux chairman set to step down

SIR PAUL NICHOLSON is expected to step down as chairman of the beleaguered Vaux brewing group in the next few weeks.

Vaux, which yesterday changed its name to Swallow Group, had previously suggested that Sir Paul would stay on at the Sunderland company to ensure some boardroom stability after the dramatic ousting of its chief executive and finance director earlier this month. They left after a row over plans to sell its two breweries to a management buyout team.

However, it is believed he will step down soon and that the company has a shortlist of two potential replacements.

The sale of the group's Sunderland and Sheffield breweries and the tenanted pub estate to Sir Paul's brother Frank for an estimated pounds 70m is close to an agreement.

Frank Nicholson's four-week exclusive negotiating period runs out on Monday but he has asked for an extension to bring the deal to fruition and this is likely to be granted.

Sir Paul may step down before the shareholders' meeting to approve the brewery sale. Private investors in Sunderland are understood to be unhappy about the alleged pounds 20m gap between the price being paid by Frank Nicholson and the possible price that could have been achieved by closure and sale of the assets. Angry exchanges are expected and local observers say Sir Paul may prefer to retire early rather than face a hostile audience in the closing days of his 22-year reign as chairman.

The change of the company's name to Swallow Group follows a resolution at its annual meeting in January. The change follows the decision to sell the brewing and tenanted pubs operations and concentrate on the Swallow Hotels operations.

Vaux has been viewed as a takeover target with the highly regarded Swallow chain seen as the most valuable asset.

Whitbread and Bass have been tipped as the most likely bidders as both are keen to expand their leisure interests. Ladbroke has previously looked at the company but its pounds 1.2bn takeover of Stakis last month has effectively ruled it out.