Urban & Country Leisure (UCL), the group led by entrepreneur Ross Sanders, plans to open five sites in 2012 as it announces its latest disposal. UCL has assigned the lease of its Marylebone Cocktail Bar in central London to restaurant operator Santi & Santi for a sum in excess of £625k. UCL said the tied Scottish & Newcastle Pub Company site had been generating profit after rent of around £250k per year. The company has operated the site for three years and spent £125k on the initial acquisition and refurbishment of the venue. Sanders said: “We are absolutely delighted with the sale of the Marylebone especially in the current climate and hospitality sector. The venue and trading has been a very profitable operation for us and we felt both the sale price and timing for the sale was appropriate.” The sale takes UCL’s estate down to eight sites. UCL has been looking to dispose of outlets that don’t fit its Lazy Cow boutique hotel format since announcing plans to spend £20m over the next three years to roll out the concept, targeting freeholds and free-of-tie leaseholds. Sanders told M&C Report that UCL has secured two unnamed sites, one in southern Birmingham and another between Putney and Wimbledon in London, and hopes to secure another in Oxford soon. All three are expected to open in the “early part of next year”. “I’m hoping to do probably another one or two [deals] by the end of next year,” he added. “It still is a buyer’s market if you have access to finance; not just on price, but if you’re dealing with a landlord they are increasing rent-free periods and making reverse premiums available. “There are good opportunities to buy freehold pubs that weren’t on the market two years ago.” Outlets disposed of by UCL this year include the White Horse in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and the George Hotel in Hatherleigh, Devon. The company opened its first hotel under the Lazy Cow brand in Warwick last year.

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