LEASES have been agreed for two discount retailers to move into the troubled Forum Shopping Centre in Chester.
Terms have been provisionally agreed with B&M to move into the unit formerly occupied by TJ Hughes and Home Bargains has also agreed provisional terms on a new shop.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has also said, in a briefing to councillors, it is currently in talks with three other retailers to take up leases at the Forum.
Currently only short-term leases are available on the site as it is being demolished as part of the Northgate redevelopment in 2017.
As well as these short-term leaseholders the council has come up with a novel way of making the Forum look less empty – a window dressing project with signs showing what the redevelopment will look like in the area and also signs pointing the way to Chester’s Market and promoting The Rows and Chester Zoo.
Giant colourful panels will be inserted into the windows of vacant shop units pending the conclusion of new leases.
Others will feature the new cultural centre, the Business Improvement District (BID) ballot and the Northgate redevelopment, while some panels will be available for sponsorship by local businesses.
The pilot initiative is being managed in conjunction with start-up company WOOPP, which is based at Chester’s Riverside Innovation Centre.
Cllr Lynda Jones, executive member for growth and innovation, said: “It is well known the Forum is to be demolished in 2017 to make way for the proposed Northgate development.
“In the interim we are committed to doing all we can to increase footfall and the number of tenants in the retail units.
“The window dressing project will give the centre a real facelift and the panels can be easily removed once a shop is occupied.”
City centre councillor Samantha Dixon said: “It is vital the council supports Chester Market and the existing businesses in the Forum.
“I welcome this short-term measure which will hopefully boost footfall in both areas.
“The panels will give the Forum a fresh and bright new look while providing helpful information for residents and visitors alike.”
Chester MP Stephen Mosley said the plan was a “great idea”.
He said: “The Northgate redevelopment means the Forum shopping centre will soon be demolished and therefore the council is not renewing shop leases and is only issuing short term lets.
“Short-term lets do not suit many businesses, so there are now empty shops in the shopping centre.
“The council’s plans to decorate empty shop windows is a great idea, advertising the market, promoting the city’s tourist attractions and explaining the redevelopment plans.
“I would also encourage the owners of the Grosvenor shopping centre to do something similar in the parts of their shopping centre that are currently being emptied to allow redevelopment.”
Costs for any businesses interested in sponsoring and appearing on the WOOPP panels start from £300 and depend on size and the length of time they appear.
For further information contact David Nicholls at WOOPP via email@example.com or Kim Morris, Northgate project planner for CWaC, via kim.Morris@ cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk