Tim Martin, chairman of JD Wetherspoon, has criticised the cost of drinks licences in Northern Ireland, describing the required payment as being "astronomical" and holding back Belfast and other cities in the region, such as Derry and Omagh.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "You have to pay an astronomical amount for a drinks licence here, whereas in Dublin and London they have removed most of the restrictions and you get a quicker response to changing trends in the industry. In London and Dublin at the moment there's a lot of craft beer bars set up by small entrepreneurs, but here a licence could set you back anywhere from £100,000 to £1 million.
"This absolute restriction on the number of licences is unhelpful to the industry. I think pubs and restaurants are an important part of the economy both north and south of the border and it's very important they're regenerated."
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He also criticised UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s budget, calling it a budget for "dinner parties", saying that it was "not helpful" to the industry and that JD Wetherspoon would have to pay £30 million in extra charges over the next five years.