French exhibition giant UGC is buying rival Gaumont's 17-screen multiplex in Antwerp, Belgium for $22m (FFr150m), as part of its Europe-wide expansion plan kickstarted by the acquisition of the UK's Virgin circuit last year.

UGC currently has two multiplexes in Brussels but plans to increase this number to five by next year. "This acquisition is consistent with our current policy of building a strong presence in Belgium," said UGC Belgium operations director Jean-Philippe van Nyen.

However competitor Gaumont is retreating from the Belgian market claiming its operations have been thwarted by a lack of suitable locations for new builds. The company said it would use the proceeds from the sale to invest in its domestic operations. Gaumont plans three new sites for the French cities of Amneville, near the Belgian border, Saint Etienne, in the centre of France, and Reims, before the end of this year.

UGC has pledged $300m to expand its cinema network across Europe which includes $80m (£50m) to build eight new cinemas in the UK and $220m (FFr1.5bn) for cinemas in Belgium, Spain and France. The company paid $343m (£215m) to acquire Virgin's 36 UK sites last October.

Although UGC's 42% market share in Brussels is fast approaching Belgian exhibitor Kinepolis' lead at 47%, the French chain currently has only 9% of the total Belgian market. The company plans to extend its reach outside the Belgian capital.