HIGH street brands H&M, New Look and Top Shop are in talks to open stores in Chester Northgate, the city's long-awaited retail scheme.

The names were revealed on the first day of a public inquiry into the planned £300 million development yesterday.

It comes after The Standard reported that project anchor House of Fraser confirmed it was “committed” to providing a flagship department store on the site, despite rumours of financial strife.

House of Fraser's store will be 99,000 square feet in size while New Look would be housed in a 25,000 sq ft unit, H&M in a 21,000 sq ft space and Top Shop taking up 12,000 sq ft.

They join a list of investors that already includes several restaurants, Picturehouse cinemas and Crowne Plaza, which is moving its current hotel to be positioned next to the Storyhouse theatre.

A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesperson has today confirmed that the authority is in “advance stages of negotiations” with “numerous” national retailers and restaurateurs for the Northgate scheme, but they added: “At this time we are not in a position to comment on specific negotiations.”

The public inquiry is set to end on February 28 at the latest and will focus on issues surrounding the relocation of the city market and 'stopping up orders', which are required to divert highways.

Headed up by government planning inspector Neil Pope, it will also look at the compulsory purchase orders (CPO) necessary to move the scheme forward to the construction phase.

It emerged that 12 objections have been lodged against the CPOs and 16 in relation to the market relocation.

Barrister Timothy Corner QC, representing Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC), said discussions were still ongoing to resolve these issues.

One objector is Britten Properties LLP, which owns 14-20 Watergate Street, currently occupied by Sainsbury's and Costa.

Both the supermarket and coffee companies lodged objections but had not submitted any evidence to back them up, Mr Corner said.

Britten Properties has proposed to carry out any necessary work itself, retaining ownership of the building, but this would leave the council with no guarantee.

Other objectors, who may give evidence at the inquiry, include Daytona Ltd and Atmore Group.

CWaC is seeking CPOs on a total of 70 properties on the site of the Northgate scheme and has so far secured 85 per cent.

In his opening speech, Mr Corner outlined the benefits of making the Northgate scheme a reality, namely the huge economic, social and environmental impact it would have.

It was needed to address a decline in retail performance in the city centre and would act as a “catalyst for investment”, led by the public sector.

“The council's motivation is that it will deliver the economic regeneration and future sustainability of the city of Chester,” Mr Corner told the inquiry.

The 5.8 hectare site was currently blighted by “outdated and low quality post-war buildings”, he said, while the new development would be of the “highest architectural quality” that “integrates seamlessly” into the city centre.

So far the council has shouldered the entire cost of funding the scheme through its construction phase, to the tune of around £57 million.

However, Mr Corner said it was expected that private sector investment would arrive once the building work started. He also said there were “detailed discussions” taking place with other high street names.

Addressing the issue of the market, he stressed that the poor location and trading mix of the existing indoor venue meant it continued to struggle.

The new market, housed prominently beneath the new cinema, would offer greatly improved visibility and profile, as well as “inviting entrances”.

The new market would also be open six days a week and into the evening, giving traders much more flexibility.

Detailed discussions on the market relocation are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, February 14. The inquiry is being held at the university's Riverside Innovation Centre and is open to the public.