QUESTION marks have emerged over the future of the Pizza Express restaurants in Bury and Prestwich.

Bosses at the chain of eateries have announced they are closing around 67 of their UK restaurants.

This would mean up to 1,100 job cuts, as part of a major restructuring plan to shore up its finances.

Their restaurants at The Rock, in Bury, and Bury New Road, were yet to reopen after the lockdown.

Plans for a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) "in the near future", are beign explored

But management insists the final outcome of the restructuring has "yet to be decided".

Pizza Express, which is majority-owned by Chinese firm Hony Capital, said it has also hired advisers from Lazard to lead a sale process for the business.

The company closed all of its UK restaurants on March 23 after the Government-mandated lockdown, before starting a phased reopening of sites last month.

It said the coronavirus pandemic has been a "huge setback" for the restaurant sector but it believes the turnaround plan "will put the business on a stronger financial footing in the new socially distanced environment".

Customer demand has been "encouraging" since sites reopened, with 166 outlets now open across the UK, it said.

Group chief finance officer Andy Pellington said: "While we have had to make some very difficult decisions, none of which has been taken lightly, we are confident in the actions being taken to reduce the level of debt, create a more focused business and improve the operational performance, all of which puts us in a much stronger position.

"We can now plan to invest in both our UK & Ireland and international businesses as well as support our teams as they return to work."

UK & Ireland managing director Zoe Bowley said: "Our business has a long history of success, but the UK-wide lockdown has hit the hospitality industry particularly hard.

"While the financial restructuring is a positive step forward, at the same time we have had to make some really tough decisions.

"As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we expect to permanently close a proportion of our restaurants, losing valued team members in the process."

The restructuring will also involve a "significant" de-leveraging of the group's external debt, reducing it from £735 million to £319 million, and extending maturities.

It also said the move could potentially result in "the transfer of majority ownership of the group to its secured noteholders".

The firm ao plans to sell its business in mainland China, where it runs 60 restaurants.

A spokesman for the MoneySavingSuperheroes website said: "Pizza Express has been a stalwart on the high street for a significant time but they have had their fair share of hardships, especially recently, having had to shut 75 branches just last month due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

"In a snap poll conducted to find out how Britons feel about the launch of Eat Out To Help Out scheme, we found that Pizza Express came third out of a list of restaurants Britons are most looking forward to eating in, with 50 per cent of those wanting to utilise the scheme stating they want to return to the Italian chain.

"This shows that appetite to dine at the eaterie is still there, they just need to survive this incredibly challenging period to reap the benefits of the scheme.

"Hopefully the profits that do come in from the scheme, which launched yesterday, will allow the chain to keep some of their branches open and potentially save hundreds of jobs."