An independent retail advisor published a report last week estimating the proposed supermarket could take up to 90 per cent of trade from the town centre – but those in favour of the store say there was nothing independent about it.

In Dr Richard Doidge’s report, prepared for the planning case officer Louise Koelman, he suggests the development – which includes a new supermarket, petrol station and housing – should be refused on retail grounds because it would have a “significant adverse impact” on Shipston’s town centre.

And controversially, in an e-mail seen by the Herald this week, Ms Koelman said: “In light of the comments from our retail consultant, we are likely to be recommending refusal with respect to the supermarket impact on Shipston-on-Stour.

“I must stress however that until my committee report is finalised, that this is my initial assessment.”

But her initial assessment shocked those in Shipston in favour of a supermarket.

Jeff Kenner, the new Labour district councillor for the town and pro-supermarket, said: “I am surprised that they’re doing that. As I understand it they would not normally indicate their decision before the report.”

Cllr Kenner went further and questioned the independence of Dr Doidge’s report, which concluded that a new supermarket is likely to lead to a “spiral of decline” of the town centre’s shops.

“I have serious concerns about this retail review which only takes into account the views of objectors to the supermarket proposal and falls short of an independent retail impact assessment.”

“I have asked the council to provide me with an explanation of the brief given to Dr Doidge and the reasons why he has only taken into account the views of objectors to the proposal. This inevitably gives the impression that the report is one-sided.

“I have also identified a number of inaccuracies in the report and have concerns about reliance on data that is out of date.”

The debate on whether to build a supermarket on greenfield land off Campden Road has been raging in the town since Ainscough Strategic Land applied for the development in February this year.

The whole town has been divided on the issue, sparking several ferocious public meetings, and pushing the date of the decision on the application further back and back.

The issue has sparked two rival groups, the anti-supermarket Shipston Heart Alive campaign (SHAC), and the pro-supermarket Shipston Needs a Supermarket (SNAS).

After Dr Doidge’s report, William Trevithic from SHAC said: “This report confirms the concerns we have been voicing for many months – it is the bigger picture that people campaigning for the supermarket need to see.

“I am sure nobody in Shipston wants to see the town centre wither and die, whether or not they are in favour of the proposed supermarket.”

But Rob O’Malley, a supporter of SNAS said it was totally unacceptable that the findings of Dr Doidge’s report were only passed to those against a new supermarket.

“This process should be transparent for all if we are to believe in the concept of localism,” he said.

“Even by Dr Doidge’s own admission, the research was conducted at his desk in Surrey and only objectors to the proposals were consulted.

“There are as many supporters as there are objectors and their views are just as valid.

“The report is full of inaccuracies and fails to challenge the fundamental finding that 72 per cent of Shipston people shop out of town. I find it inexplicable that the council may recommend refusal of the application based on Dr Doidge’s review.”

Stratford District Council's planning committee (east) will meet on Thursday January 24th at 6pm in Shipston High School to consider the planning application.