Council chiefs have vowed to remedy the ‘poor image’ vacant shops at The Forum Shopping Centre are presenting.

Seven of the 20 retail units lie empty at the site in the heart of Chester city centre.

Cheshire West and Chester Council acquired the centre as part of the long-heralded £300m Northgate development designed to breathe new life into the city centre.

To develop the scheme, councillors recently bought the land and property assets of ING Real Estate Development UK for a figure thought to be almost £20m.

A council spokesman said: “The council recently acquired The Forum and it is well-known that this is for the Northgate scheme.

“In the interim we will be doing everything within reason that we can to increase the footfall and the number of tenants in The Forum and will be looking at the best ways to do that.

“Plans for two new tenants are progressing well and a new store is opening soon.

“We are conscious of the poor image empty units can project and are looking at a range of options, including flexible lease terms, to get the units occupied, together with appropriate management and promotional activities pending redevelopment.

“We are also looking at dressing the windows of empty shops.”

Northgate promises more than 200 construction jobs and about 1,600 full-time equivalent jobs.

Centre manager Lawrence Allen said a combination of factors including the recession and uncertainty over when the scheme was due to start had affected the number of units.

He said: “I am very concerned about how the centre looks. At one time we were very busy. However, over the years due to things outside our control we’ve suffered.

“When I joined in 2001 we were told the centre would be demolished in 2005 to make way for Northgate. So it’s not easy to attract retailers who think we’re not going to be here forever.”

He said despite setbacks the centre was facing a ‘brighter future’.

He said: “We have Poundworld opening today, Thursday, and I’m in negotiations with a pop-up retail company and two shops.

The former Co-op store in the Forum Shopping Centre will open as Poundworld on Thursday, April 3
The former Co-op store in the Forum Shopping Centre will open as Poundworld on Thursday, April 3

“I’ve also been talking with people from the Innovation Centre at Chester University to create murals to go in the windows of the empty units.”