SPECULATION is rife over who told a national newspaper that Tesco owned the Brian Ford's Discount Store in Barnstaple, which last year submitted a planning application for an 80,000 square feet superstore at Seven Brethren.A rival store executive was quoted as claiming it was "a Trojan Horse" planning application with Tesco using the local retailer as a "front."The Sunday Telegraph story stated that Tesco had owned Brian Ford's for a year, but stressed it had broken no laws.A Tesco spokesperson confirmed to the Gazette this week that it had actually bought the business through a subsidiary company in 2003.She said Tesco had not revealed its involvement at the request of Brian Ford's"Brian Ford's is a local family-run company. They did not want to cause uncertainty to their staff until it was clear if these plans would progress," she said. "The motivation was not to conceal Tesco's identity, it was to help them maintain stability in their business."Brian Ford's submitted the planning application for a new store at Seven Brethren last year.North Devon Council issued a statement this week which said it had had no knowledge that Tesco was involved in the scheme until Friday afternoon, but this would have no impact on the planning process.The statement continued: "Each application is judged on its own merit and in this case one of the criteria the authority will consider is whether there is a need in the town for more retail space, not who may run the shops provided."The council has commissioned a retail assessment for Barnstaple; however, this was done before we had any knowledge of Tesco's involvement in the Brian Ford's application and is not in any way related.Leader of the Council Cllr Mike Harrison said: "I welcome this indication that Tesco is interested in investing in Barnstaple as a sign of their confidence in the future economy of the town."Mr Michael Ford issued a statement on behalf of the family firm to the Gazette yesterday (Tuesday). It is printed in full on this page. The Tesco spokesperson said that, if the Seven Brethren planning application was successful, it was intended to keep the present Barnstaple Tesco store open to run in tandem with the new one.