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Marston's to invest £15m in opening new pubs

MIDLANDS-based Martson's has revealed plans to invest £15 million a year in a rolling programme of pub openings in Scotland.

expanding NORTH: Marston's plans to open five pubs a year in Scotland, with the ultimate aim of building up a portfolio of 50 venues.
expanding NORTH: Marston's plans to open five pubs a year in Scotland, with the ultimate aim of building up a portfolio of 50 venues.

The brewer and pub operator said its acquisitions team will look to add to five sites a year to the estate as it ultimately seeks to develop a portfolio of up to 50 north of the Border.

The plans were disclosed a year after Marston's, which operates more than 2,150 leased, managed and franchised pubs in the UK, opened its first in Scotland, the Pine Marten in Dunbar.

Marston's has since added three in Scotland - in Braehead, Forfar and Danderhall in Midlothian - and is scheduled to open a further six over the next 12 months.

The Scottish plans are part of a broader strategy by Marston's to open between 25 and 30 new sites across the UK a year.

Towns currently on its radar include Armadale in West Lothian, Balloch, Dumfries, Dunfermline, Port Glasgow and Ravenscraig, which is billed to become Scotland's first new town in more than 50 years.

In addition, the company said it will shortly begin building a hotel next to its pub in Dunbar, which will become Scotland's first Marston's Inn.

It is also planning to build a second Marston's Inn next to a pub it is due to open at Loch Lomond Shores in Balloch.

The company said its plans will create an average of 200 new jobs in Scotland each year, over and above the construction jobs brought built by the new outlets.

Asked why Marston's felt confident to invest in pubs when figures from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) suggest they are closing at a rate of 28 a week, head of acquisitions Steve Roberts said: "It's basically just re-formatting the pub offer.

"The pubs that are closing have limited facilities and [a] limited customer offer; it's out of date.

"We're finding that what people want is the broader offer that you get in a new-build pub, and the focus is very much on food sales with drink being ancillary.

"The truth of the matter is that the pubs that are closing are focused completely at the other end of the spectrum."

Mr Roberts said the firm is targeting prominent sites on main roads, roundabouts, and major junctions for the new sites, noting that proximity to retail or business parks, leisure facilities, and new or existing major housing developments was also crucial.

He explained: "The important to thing to stress is what we are not doing is going within those housing developments into the old traditional local centre situation.

"We want to be on the main road in front of the scheme, so that we get the best of both worlds - the trade from the new housing development but also passing custom from the greater environment around the site."

Mr Roberts said the majority of the planned openings will be new-builds, though refused to rule out converting existing premises for pub use or acquiring trading pubs to fulfil the plans.

He added: "To date they have all been new-builds and everything we have in our pipeline at the moment is new-build."

While the outlets will be designed to fit with their locale, Mr Roberts said they would broadly trade under one of three formats: Milestone Rotisserie, Milestone Carvery and 2 for 1.

He said: "They [can] all trade out of the same building, effectively, it's just that the fit out and the menu offer are different, depending on which format it is.

"We do look at profiling sites to out the right format into the right site."

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