NEWPORT'S £100 million shopping centre plans took a major step forward today as it was revealed five top companies are vying to build the complex.

Newport city council was told that 17 companies had submitted tenders for the scheme, which includes new stores, restaurants and the top prize of a store for high street giant Debenhams, and five had been shortlisted.

The deadline for submissions of proposals is January 31, 2005, and May 31 for a development agreement to be signed.

The council's managing director, Chris Freegard, said it was vital people in the city knew that Debenhams was committed to Newport.

David Ward, director of planning and strategy at Newport Unlimited, said: "This is a massive opportunity and we are very pleased with the level of interest. The shortlisted five were picked for their credentials and track record."

The companies, which were selected by a team from the council, Newport Unlimited and external adviser King Sturge, are AMEC, Modus Properties Ltd, Multiplex, St Modwen Developments and Wilson Bowden Developments.

Officers from Newport council, Newport Unlimited and external advisers King Sturge selected the shortlist after looking at various aspects of the interested companies, including financial strength and track record in undertaking major city centre schemes.

Newport Unlimited estimate it will cost at least £100m to give the area a facelift, with new shops, a mall, restaurants and a smaller bus station.

Newport council chief executive Chris Freegard said Debenhams "are still committed" to coming to Newport, and that the council were also in "active discussions" with UBS, the company that owns the Kingsway Centre.

The original vision of bulldozing the Kingsway and replacing it with a new £115m mall and Debenhams store was scuppered after UBS questioned the financial viability of the scheme.

The new plans focus on a design for 350,000 square feet of shopping space, with less focus on the Kingsway but with additional car parking. The five companies will now be sent the development brief and supporting information.

A council spokeswoman said the development would "herald a new era for the city centre".

Newport council cabinet were discussing the shortlist at their meeting today, but will not make any decision until February.