Pubs firm JD Wetherspoon is ready to scale back expansion plans and blames a tough tax regime for exacerbating already dire trading conditions, Chairman and founder Tim Martin told Reuters in an interview Friday.

The company, which currently has 834 pubs across Britain, said it is now targeting 1,400 to 1,500 pubs in the long term, down from 1,600 previously, and could slow its rate of expansion from the current goal of 50 new pubs per year.

If we continue to get these tax increases we will take a serious look at the level of expansion we can contemplate because pubs won't be viable in some of the smaller towns that we would otherwise have considered locating in, Martin said at the Metropolitan Bar, a Wetherspoon pub in Baker Street, London.

These tax rises will have an impact on Wetherspoon's expansion program and on lots of other pub and restaurant companies. I thought this government would start to moderate the approach to taxing the industry but since they're increasing it puts a question mark over our expansion plans, he added.

British pubs pay the second highest rate of excise duty in Europe. Under the duty escalator, which was introduced by the last Labour government in 2008, taxes on alcohol must rise by a minimum of 2 percent above inflation each year.

Martin, who opened the first Wetherspoon pub in London in 1979 while a 24-year-old law student, has lobbied for Britain to follow the lead of France where restaurants and cafes were granted a VAT reduction from 19.6 percent to 5.5 percent in 2009.

Wetherspoon has been one of the better performing pub companies throughout the economic downturn because of its value-for-money offers such as a beer and burger for 4.69 pounds proving popular with cash-strapped consumers.

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)