Ultimate Leisure said the current year had started well and that trading has been strong across all sectors in the three months to the end of September.

The company also revealed that it was testing a new concept called Coyote Wild, in a 1000-capacity site in South Shields. If successful, the rodeo-themed bar will be rolled-out along with the Chase and Beach brand formats

The company said trading from two new units in Rotherham and Newcastle that opened in the first quarter had been encouraging and confirmed that its plans are on track to open another four units before Christmas.

Ultimate also plans to open a Beach unit in Belfast in the first half of 2003 and is in talks to open a number of other sites.

Jon Pither, the company’s chairman, said: "The current development pipeline, coupled with the new openings and strength of the core estate, gives the Board confidence that 2003 will be another successful year both in terms of growth and profitability."

In answer to investor concerns about the sector, Pither said that the group operated mainly in freehold sites in prime locations, which protect the company from high fixed rental costs and rent increases.

In the year to 30 June interest and rental costs were covered 4.6 times by operating profit. In the period to 30 September this cover was 4.1 times, despite traditionally being the second-weakest quarter.