Watford’s Stonegate pubs, which include The Cother Arms, Walkabout, Slug and Lettuce, The Rifle Volunteer, and The Horns are at risk, according to a union.

GMB has warned that the 293 pubs across the East of England which are part of the Stonegate chain, “could close”. 

It said the company, owned by TDR Capital, had issued a warning that there is "no guarantee" that it can continue as a going concern, due to its £2.2bn debt “mountain”, in its annual report and financial statements filed on April 8.

The report admitted: "Since the refinancing plans haven't been executed, there is an indication that a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the company and group's ability to continue as a going concern."

The business has responded by labelling the claims inaccurate, adding that no such warning was issued and no venues are at risk from the refinancing process.

GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said: “TDR bosses are private equity gamblers - playing fast and loose with people’s jobs and lives.

“When their risky ventures go wrong, they swan off to their next project, leaving workers and communities to pick up the pieces.

“Now, hundreds of much-loved pubs across the East of England are now in serious danger of pulling their last pint. It’s a disgrace.”

Watford Observer: The Cother Arms.The Cother Arms. (Image: Stephen Danzig)

Stonegate owns major brands like Slug and Lettuce, Popworld, and Walkabout, but is also involved with more than 1,000 one-off locals.

Around Watford this includes The Red Lion, The Cother Arms, The Prince George, The Rifle Volunteer, and The Horns.

In the past two years, Stonegate has relaunched The Cother Arms (formerly The Wishing Well) and The Horns after closure, and found new management for The Rifle Volunteer.

A spokesperson for Stonegate, said: “We are really pleased with the performance of the business in 2023, which included a sector-leading Christmas trading period. We have delivered a rise in revenue and a significant increase in profitability.

Watford Observer: The Horns.The Horns. (Image: Watford Observer Camera Club/Vlad Dan)

“We have been very clear that we continue to work towards achieving our long-term balance sheet goals, with the successful refinancing of a portion of our estate in December marking a significant strategic step towards this.

“We would also like to assure our employees and partners that no venues are at risk as a result of this process.

“TDR Capital has been and continues to be a supportive investor in Stonegate - developing the business over the last fourteen years into the UK’s largest pub company with 4,500 great venues across the country.”