UPMARKET British chain Debenhams has agreed to acquire the retail operations of Roches Stores at its 11 sites, sources close to the deal have revealed.

The companies have signed heads of agreement and are completing due diligence.

Roches is exiting its retail business but retains a substantial property portfolio, including the flagship Henry Street shop in Dublin, which will be leased to Debenhams.

Debenhams has shops in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. With Roches it will spread its reach to Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kerry, and boost its presence in Cork and Dublin.

The British retailer, which completed a £1.7bn flotation on the London stock exchange in May, has been keen to expand in Ireland for some time. The Roches deal boosts its high street presence just in time to cash in on a spending boom which is expected to gain momentum as 15bn worth of SSIA money floods into the economy.

Roches Stores staff will be transferred to Debenhams but it is not clear how the deal will affect the various third-party retailers which operate within Roches Stores under licence.

Roches has signed up a plethora of retail partners in recent years including Clarks, Sunglass Hut, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and La Senza.

It is understood, however, that Spanish fashion retailer Zara will retain its concessions within the former Roches chain .

Zara's Henry Street opening in 2003, following a massive overhaul of the Roches site, was a big success for the discount fashion chain. Inditex, the 20bn retail powerhouse which owns Zara, marked out the Dublin opening as one of the most successful in its history. Zara reported sales of 17m in its first full year of trading at Henry Street and posted a profit of 2.8m.

The Roche family, which has been in the retail business since opening its first shop in Cork in the late 19th century, owns property assets valued at more than 270m, according to accounts filed for two companies linked to the Roches, Westfield Investments and Mecca International. Mecca is in the process of redeveloping one of those properties, the Frascati Centre in south Dublin, which it bought for 50m two years ago, and has now applied for planning permission for a new shopping centre.

Roches Stores was the anchor tenant in the Blackrock site but transferred the lease to Marks and Spencer following its decision to close its four supermarkets in 2004.

The company is now effecting a similar move with its fashion and homeware shops as it completes its withdrawal from the Irish high street.