The sleepy Surrey town of Dorking has been transformed into a battleground as Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Lidl and Waitrose fight it out to open a store there.

A public referendum will start next week on the retailers' plans, with local residents given the chance to rank each site in order of preference.

Morrisons has proposed a 55,000 sq ft store with a "substantial" car park outside the town centre. The retailer has claimed more than half of those who responded to the plans said it was their preferred option.

Lidl, which described Dorking as a "target town", is also proposing a store outside the town centre.

Waitrose, meanwhile, wants to extend its existing store in the town centre and presented its plans to the public this week. "We want to remain in the town centre," a spokesman said. "It is a site in need of major investment."

Sainsbury's, which also has a store in Dorking, has been planning to build a larger supermarket in the centre for many years. It has a land bank in the town that was highlighted in the Competition Commission groceries inquiry but the retailer has been opposed by Dorking SOS a group formed in 2005 to challenge Sainsbury's plans. The retailer will send out 17,000 brochures on its proposals next week.

"We want people to engage in the future of their town," said James Friend, leader of Mole Valley District Council. "Hopefully we will get a few thousand people taking part."