SUPERMARKET giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s look set for a battle royal later this month as both try to influence the outcome of a public inquiry in Huntingdon.

SUPERMARKET giants Tesco and Sainsbury's look set for a battle royal later this month as both try to influence the outcome of a public inquiry in Huntingdon.

Both retailers own land in Huntingdon town centre, between the ring road and the East Coast main line railway - and the titans will clash on Thursday, July 29 on the third day of a public inquiry into Huntingdonshire District Council's masterplan for expanding the town centre and developing the area to the west of the ring road.

Both grocers stand to gain from persuading the inspector to their way of thinking.

Sainsbury's owns land on what is currently a run-down industrial area - the part of the site HDC thinks should be earmarked for retail use.

Tesco, on the other hand, has acquired land at the Silent Channel end, which is zoned for housing in the council's action plan. The supermarket giant will argue that HDC has been too prescriptive in its zoning, and Tesco should be allowed to use its land for retail use.

At stake is a huge local market for food. A recent study for HDC shows Tesco's Abbots Ripton Road store accounting for more than £51million a year in food sales - nearly 15 per cent of every pound spent in food in the entire district. By contrast, Sainsbury's in Huntingdon accounts for just over £30millon.

The longer Tesco can string out the start of an expanded town centre, the longer it can keep that £21million food sales gap.

Sainsbury's, of course, will argue that HDC is absolutely right to zone the land it owns for the purpose for which it wishes to use it.

But planners are unlikely to show Sainsbury's a green light unless the future of the grocer's existing site is securely earmarked for retailers - or even a single large retailer, such as Debenhams, Matalan or Next.

If Tesco's stance does bid to delay the Huntingdon West re-development, it will have an ally at the public inquiry in the form of developer Churchmanor Estates, which owns Chequers Court.

It is expected to argue that its Chequers Court scheme should go ahead before a start is made on Huntingdon West. That, HDC's barrister will tell the inspector, is a bit rich as Churchmanor has been sitting on its own hands for five years or more.