Speculation John Lewis will relocate to a rebuilt Whitgift Centre has been raised after supermarket giant Tesco began preparations for a shop at the department store’s Purley Way site.

The £7.5m store, built in 2010, could be demolished by Tesco, which owns the land and plans to build a 68,000sq ft retail store and 18,000sq ft staff area in its place.

In November last year John Lewis branch manager Glynis Gunning-Stevenson said John Lewis hoped to move into a redeveloped Whitgift Centre, while last week Tesco applied to Croydon Council to discover the level of environmental effect assessment needed for a planning application at the Purley Way site, expected later this year.

A spokesman for John Lewis said: “We remain interested in the possibility of a new department store in Croydon town centre. “Our position has always been that this can only be delivered as part of a major step-change for the central retail area. We are continuing to talk to the council and potential town centre developers.”

The Whitgift Centre is subject to a bidding war between shopping centre developers Hammerson, which owns Centrale, and Westfield.

A spokesman for Tesco confirmed these development plans in the town centre had led to the submission of the planning application.

He said: "We are well aware John Lewis has expressed interest in the town centre and are monitoring the situation closely.

"If they were to move out we want to be in a position to take advantage immediately."

He offered reassurance Tesco was not planning to move John Lewis from the site in the near future.

He said: “It still has seven or eight years on its lease but there is a plan to put a store on that site, so our application is to ensure everything is in place should it leave early.”