Tesco has made it clear it does not own any other independent retailers after admitting it was the owner of the apparently 'independent' Brian Ford's Discount Store in Barnstaple, Devon.

The multiple was forced to reveal it owned the store this week after its plans to build a 60,000 sq ft store on the site were leaked in the press.

Reports suggested Tesco bought the store last year, but The Grocer can reveal that Tesco has owned the site since 2003. The store was bought for an undisclosed sum in 2003 by Wixley Properties Ltd, an agent of Tesco. The secrecy surrounding Tesco's ownership has caused anger in the town.

Lesley Brown, the owner of Frankmarsh independent store, said: "I was shocked it could be so underhand. The way it has gone about it has upset a lot of people. It's the talk of the town."

In August last year the application to build a 60,000 ft sq store was made under the name of Brian Ford's Discount Store. The Ford family, which still runs the store, later wrote to the council saying that if permission were granted, the store would be run by a "major supermarket chain".

Tesco - which already owns a 39,000 sq ft store and petrol station in the town - denied its tactics were underhand and said it had no legal obligation to declare the business deal or to put its name on the application.

It said the deal was kept quiet at the request of the Ford family, which didn't want to worry staff until the application was accepted.

Katherine Edwards, Tesco corporate affairs manager, said: "We thought getting permission would take a matter of weeks but it has taken years."