HOTLY-anticipated plans for a new Dunelm store in Southend have been put on hold with the Royals Shopping Centre still on the market.

Plans were agreed in February this year for new Dunelm signs sparked excitement but have now been thrown into doubt.

The homeware store would have been a huge boost to the shopping centre after Primark moved to the high street in October and Debenhams recent closure.

With the shopping centre still on the market for £13.2million, plans have been put on hold until a deal is struck with new owners.

Antony Tomassi, 65, director of Tomassi’s in Southend High Street said: “The town needs any business it can get and Dunelm is a good operator and would put new life into the Royals following the closure of Debenhams at the centre.

“I think if it doesn’t open the new store it will take us back to how it used to be before the Royals was open about 30 years ago.

“This end of the high street has been doing well but I am very worried as we do need footfall and with Debenhams going it’s going to have an impact.

“It would be fantastic if Dunelm does come to town and it will act as a marker that Southend is open to trade and the place to be for business.”

Mr Tomassi, who is also BID committee member said it’s vital for the centre that the homeware chain opens.

Cheryl Nevin, Labour councillor for Milton, said: “I think it’s always difficult for businesses to take a decision on the future when there is uncertainty.

“I hope Dunelm does go ahead with the plans and we do need to encourage more businesses in to the town centre and nobody wants to see businesses leave the town.”

Marketed as the UK’s leading home furnishing retailer, Dunelm sells a huge range of items from bedding, curtains, furniture and beds to mattresses at its 169 large stores.

A spokesman for Dunelm said: “Our plans to open a new store in Southend are unfortunately on hold as the shopping centre is currently being sold by its current landlord.”