Preparing the ground ahead for deals worth around £50m was the secret to the smooth conclusion of Marston’s recent sale of more than 160 pubs to Admiral and another pub company.
John Gaunt & Partners worked closely with the Wolverhampton-based brewer and pub operator, as it disposed of 137 sites in November 2019, and a further 29 in January 2020.
Led by partner Michelle Hazlewood, John Gaunt & Partners worked hand-in-glove with Marston’s property lawyers at Shoosmiths, undertaking due diligence on all the premises licences provided by Marston’s to the buyers.
That involved collating details about any issues concerning operation of sites during the last two years, the current designated premises supervisor (DPS), annual fee dates, and other authorisations.
The 137-pub Admiral transaction happened at the point when annual fees are paid, so significant reconciliations and work was undertaken to ensure there was no potential for liability or suspension of licences once the sites passed to Admiral.
In the later 29-pub deal, numerous queries about licences were raised as part of the due diligence exercise, and were included in John Gaunt & Partners’ pre-contract enquiries. Answers to those questions were provided to Shoosmiths, along with data that supported the proposed position.
Indeed, it was John Gaunt & Partners’ level of preparedness that meant there were few ‘bumps in the road’, according to James Whiteman, Marston’s group head of estates and development.
“They made sure that we handed over a compliant estate,” he said, “and that any potential issues were mitigated. So much so that there were no significant bumps in the road on the way to concluding the sales.
“We got in touch with John Gaunt & Partners as soon as the deals were proposed, with Michelle and the team conducting a full audit of the pubs being sold. That in turn was part of a lot of upfront work that began around six weeks before the Admiral deal concluded. It really put us on the front foot, and went a long way to putting Admiral minds at rest.”
Michelle has also advised Marston’s on new build pub developments, while over the last 15 years John Gaunt & Partners has been involved in the licensing of around 160 new sites, working closely with Marston’s, its architects, and project managers.
James Whiteman added: “John Gaunt & Partners offer a terrific service. They know us, and provide lots of invaluable teaching and guidance, including to our operations and fit-out teams, and Michelle always keeps us up-to-date with the latest licensing legislation.
“We find them exceptionally approachable, always there to offer advice, and absolutely willing to drop everything in order to help us get things done. They really do know their stuff – their counsel is never simply a copy-and-paste of legislation – and they are very closely aligned to our business.
“It’s a great relationship – very much a partnership – and John Gaunt & Partners are our default choice when it comes to licensing legal advice.”