Laura Ashley is to close about 40 stores as the company's new chairman pushes ahead with a fresh vision for the brand which includes expansion in China.

Andrew Khoo said he expects to cut the number of UK stores from 160 to 120, continuing a strategy which has seen 40 retail units close since the beginning of 2015.

In Essex, the chain has stores in Basildon, Rayleigh, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Colchester.

Mr Khoo, who took over as chairman of Laura Ashley's owner from his father, Khoo Kay Peng, last week, said: "The direction I want to go is to have not so many stores, but maybe the ones we have could be larger.

"It's more about showcasing the brand. It doesn't really matter if they buy online or offline, we just want them to get inspired."

He added the group would look at moving staff from any stores which close to the enlarged shops.

Meanwhile he also announced plans to roll out bricks and mortar stores in China once Laura Ashley has built a significant online customer base.

"We're moving to Asia in a much bigger way," said Mr Khoo.

"We have a regional office in Singapore, it's a dedicated office of about ten people and it's focused purely on e-commerce into China.

"Once we get a significant foothold in digital retail in China we can look at the physical stores rollout."

British retailers have had a difficult year as high street footfall declines and consumer confidence wanes.

Last week Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley said November was "unbelievably bad" and warned that many retailers will be unable to take the strain.

Mr Khoo said that Laura Ashley in the UK had seen some promising signs in the run-up to Christmas including in clothing sales, but it has been slow to shift big-ticket items such as furniture.

"It's a challenging environment and it could become more challenging," he said.

But he remained positive on Laura Ashley's home market despite the threat of Brexit uncertainty.

"My long-term view of the UK is I have confidence in the UK and we will continue to invest in the UK.

"As long as Laura Ashley stays relevant there's no reason we can't get over this little speed bump."