Wetherspoon hits at rivals

THE fast-growing pub group JD Wetherspoon hit out yesterday at what its chairman, Tim Martin, called the 'anti-free enterprise tactics' of its big rivals Grand Metropolitan, Whitbread and Allied Brewers.

Mr Martin said the big pub owners were continuing to object to more than three-quarters of Wetherspoon's licence applications in retaliation for its growing market share in London.

Wetherspoon won an appeal in March against Allied when a decision to refuse a licence for a new pub in east London was overturned. Allied paid Wetherspoon's costs.

Sir Allen Sheppard, chairman of Grand Met, was singled out: 'The actions of these supposed champions of free enterprise are irreconcilable with a free market system.'

Mr Martin said the big companies were demanding a level playing field and free trade in connection with the cross-Channel trade in alcohol while at the same time trying to stamp out Wetherspoon's expansion.

The growth of Wetherspoon continued last year with 20 new pub openings, taking its total estate to 111. Five years ago, the group, which specialises in large pubs in busy urban areas, operated from just 25 sites. A further 24 openings are planned this year.

A spokesman for Grand Met said: 'There have been a couple of occasions when we objected to licences when established pubs were under threat in overpubbed areas. But we do not object in principle.'

In the year to July pre-tax profits at Wetherspoon rose 55 per cent to pounds 6.5m ( pounds 4.2m). Turnover, estimated to be twice its rivals' on a per pub basis, increased by 51 per cent to pounds 46m ( pounds 31m). Earnings per share were 29 per cent higher at 18.2p and a final dividend of 4.4p makes a full year total of 6.6p.

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