PLANS for a major new restaurant chain in Witham have been put forward.
The proposed site, at 70 Newland Street, used to be a discount store before it closed down.
But now award-winning Prezzo, with more than 160 restaurants nationwide, hopes to bring a taste of Italy to the town.
Jane Coleman, deputy town clerk at Witham Town Council, said: "Councillors are delighted that somebody like Prezzo wants to come to Witham.
"Not many people know about it because it's only at the permission stage, but I think it will be popular.
"At the moment it's a run-down building that has been boarded up for months, but they want to put big new windows in the front and do it all up – it's going to look lovely."
Prezzo submitted its plans to Braintree District Council last month.
Independent business owner Philippa Gigg, who runs Yaxley Hair and Beauty, said: "I think it would be good , as we need a big chain in town because you never know who else might follow. It will bring people into town."
But while it may be positive news for Witham residents, independent restaurant owners are slightly more apprehensive, with two owners declining to comment on the matter.
However, Ian Cass, treasurer at Witham Chamber of Commerce, said: "I know there is the need to support independent stores, but these large institutions do not open new franchises and new restaurants in areas they don't see there's going to be strong business.
"This is boding well for the future."
Simone Iorizzo, who owns Mama Dells cafe, added: "It's a tough one really. I'm glad it's not a charity shop or a betting shop – I'm really pleased about that, but it is another brand giant.
"I have mixed feelings at the moment. I'm pretty sure it will affect us at the end of the day.
"These places are generally very aggressive with their advertising because they have an enormous budget.
"It is good for Witham but what it really needs is a Primark – if we had that we would all be laughing."
Prezzo spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "Prezzo has applied for planning permission to convert the former shop into one of its Italian restaurants.
"Subject to planning permission, our aim is to open a first-class restaurant in Witham.
"We would be looking to invest £500,000 on the redevelopment project and to create approximately 18 new jobs.
"Our Prezzo restaurants have proven extremely popular across the UK, including those in Essex, and we believe that Witham is an excellent location for us.
"We also believe that a new Prezzo restaurant will be an asset to the town and act as a catalyst for other businesses to invest in the area."