BOSSES at House of Fraser have stressed they remain committed to providing a flagship department store for Chester's £300m Northgate development.

Doubts had been raised following recent national press reports that suggested the company is facing significant financial pressures.

Sales reportedly fell 2.9 per cent across its 59 stores nationwide over Christmas and 7.5 per cent on its website.

One credit insurer is sufficiently worried to withdraw its cover and it has been reported that House of Fraser is looking to cut its high street footprint by 30 per cent over the next decade.

However, a spokesman for the company told The Standard today that the credit insurer in question provides cover for just 20 of the company's 650 suppliers – a very small proportion.

“Cover is not being withdrawn by other credit insurers – it is very much business as usual,” she said.

“We can confirm that House of Fraser is committed to opening the new store in Cheshire.”

St Martin's Way showing the wide pedestrian crossing, shops and department store.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) also told this newspaper that its deal with House of Fraser remains solid.

It is thought the new store in Chester would be similar to the one opened last year at Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre in Northamptonshire.

Billed as the company's first sustainable store, it cost £12 million to build and employs around 270 full and part-time staff.

The store is 64,000 sq ft whereas the proposed flagship branch in Chester would be much larger at 100,000 sq ft.

There were celebrations in February last year when the council announced House of Fraser's involvement in the city's long-awaited retail scheme.

Stone Street - looking from the cathedral to the department store.

The company joined two other project anchors in the form of Picturehouse, which is providing a six-screen cinema, and a new-build Crowne Plaza Hotel.

However, since January there have been widespread rumours that House of Fraser is seeking to close stores and cut its rent bill through a 'company voluntary arrangement' - a form of insolvency.

The company is said to have heavy debts and in September last year its Chinese owners Sanpower injected £25 million of extra cash to see it through Christmas.

A public inquiry on the Northgate development is due to start on Wednesday this week and will look at the council's compulsory purchase order to buy 70 properties on the site of the proposed scheme. It will also consider the application to move the market.

Chester Northgate - view from the cathedral.

To date no third-party investor has come forward to fund the project through its construction phase meaning the council has had to stump up almost £57 million to ensure it moves forward.

This includes £21.65 million in design costs and preparatory work, £22 million on acquiring the Forum offices, which sit on the site, and £13.2 million to cover the “final site assembly budget”.

The first phase of construction is due to start next year, opening at the end of 2019. Phase two begins later in 2018 with the whole development opening late 2020 or early 2021.

As well as a shopping centre and cinema it will also boast a new indoor market, restaurant hub in the former library and 120 new homes once complete.

 Chester Northgate - an overview of the £300m plan for the city centre.