THE future of a popular Northwich pub restaurant hangs in the balance after its owners announced it would ‘exit’ 238 of its food and drink outlets to make way for more hotel rooms.

The Woodpecker Cookhouse and Pub, on London Road, along with its onsite Northwich South Premier Inn hotel, are both owned by international hospitality giant, Whitbread PLC.

The Woodpecker is open to the general public but also provides the food and drinks for guests at the hotel.  

Whitbread recently announced plans to spend £500 million on 3,500 new hotel rooms across the UK, as well as its intention to ‘integrate’ food and drink by opening more restaurants inside its hotels.

Raising capital for its expansion plans involves 'exiting' around 238 of its worst-performing pub restaurants, it says. 

It added of the total, 112 are set to be replaced with integrated hotel restaurants, using the ‘vacated space’ to provide more ‘higher-returning’ hotel rooms.

Entrance to the Northwich South Premier Inn on London RoadEntrance to the Northwich South Premier Inn on London Road (Image: Newsquest)

A further 126 will continue to operate so they can be sold as going concerns. Sales of 21 of these have already been agreed, and Whitbread says these alone will generate £28 million revenue. 

A further 196 of its better performing branded restaurants will continue to operate as normal and will not be affected by these plans in any way.

Whitbread were unable to confirm which of these categories the Woodpecker falls under, adding a consultation process is ongoing.

Whitbread was granted planning permission by Cheshire West and Chester Council planners to build a 33-room annex at its Northwich South Premier Inn in July 2021. 

Whitbread already has planning permission for a 33-room annex at its London Road Premier InnWhitbread already has planning permission for a 33-room annex at its London Road Premier Inn (Image: Newsquest)

A Whitbread spokesman said: “While we have announced proposals which could impact this site, it is important to note they are subject to consultation, and the Woodpecker is still currently open and trading.

“Whilst our UK hotel performance has gone from strength to strength, the performance of some of our branded restaurants has been impacted by a reduction in footfall from non-hotel guests with the result they have struggled to meet their targeted levels of return.

“Having responded to this shift in demand with several commercial initiatives during financial year 2024, we have continued to explore ways to further improve the service to our hotel guests whilst also enhancing our financial performance. 

“We recognise that this will be unsettling for our team members, and we are providing them with dedicated support.

The Woodpecker is a popular drinking and dining sport with non-hotel guests in NorthwichThe Woodpecker is a popular drinking and dining sport with non-hotel guests in Northwich (Image: Newsquest)

“We are committed to working hard to enable as many as possible stay with us by either transferring into new roles, or by taking up other vacancies across the business more broadly through our existing recruitment activity."

Concerns have also been raised Premier Inn’s room expansion plans are designed to meet increased demand for temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.

Whitbread’s spokesman added: “There is absolutely no truth in this whatsoever.

"Premier Inn does not accept this kind of contract business for a whole host of reasons, including a lack of communal spaces and cooking facilities for guests in our hotels."