France's UGC Cinemas, the new owner of Virgin's UK cinema circuit, has pledged $300m to expand its cinema network across Europe.

The French exhibition giant, which spent $343m (£215m) to acquire Virgin's 36 UK sites last October, plans to invest more than $80m (£50m) to build eight new UK cinemas - a total of 100 screens - over the next 18 months. The investment is being mirrored on the continent where the company is pumping $220 (Ffr1.5bn) into 12 new cinemas for France, Spain and Belgium.

'This expansion will result in a total of 310 new screens which we believe will make us Europe's premier cinema chain in terms of both size and innovation,' said UGC Cinemas (UK) commercial director Mike Thomson. UGC currently has a portfolio of 81 cinemas housing 677 screens across France, Belgium, Spain, UK and Ireland.

UGC's first new UK builds will open in Hull and the Docklands, London in May. The company started to rebrand its UK sites this week with a cash injection of $8m (£5m).