Waitrose has welcomed the decision by the Office of Fair Trading to approve its proposed acquisition of 18 Safeway stores and one Morrisons store.

As previously announced, each of the stores being acquired will continue to be operated by Morrisons until they are converted to Waitrose shops in a phased programme over the coming months.

Detailed plans are in place for this conversion programme. Waitrose will convert one shop per week, with Sandbach and Fulham open by 1 July. All 19 shops will be trading under the Waitrose format by November.

The acquisition of these shops takes Waitrose into a number of new areas in the North of England and Wales, and strengthens its presence in the South. The stores being acquired will add over half a million sq ft of selling space to Waitrose’s existing 144 branches, an increase of some 20%.

Steven Esom, Managing Director of Waitrose, said: “We are delighted to get the official go-ahead from the OFT and look forward to transforming the 19 branches. The hard work of conversion into our successful trading format starts now, and we look forward to welcoming the former Safeway staff to Waitrose and the John Lewis Partnership.”