Plans put forward by two supermarket rivals to build stores in Malmesbury will not be decided on until after May next year at the earliest.

The surprise announcement was made by Wiltshire Council on Friday after it stated it would not approve or reject plans for the Sainsbury’s or Waitrose stores until after the town had approved its community-led planning policy.

The Neighbourhood Plan, as it is known, is currently being formulated by more than 20 local experts and stakeholders who are members of a steering group, before consultation with the community, offering people more say over the growth and development of the town.

Simon Killane, a member of the Malmesbury Neigh-bourhood Steering Group and Wiltshire and town councillor, said: “I very much felt it was a difficult situation for the officers to be in but I’m glad that’s what they have decided.

“There will be people in the town who think we are trying to stop the plans but they need to look at the bigger picture.

“This is about empowering our community and not saying ‘no’ to everything but working with the planning authorities. They are the people we have to look to with our proposal to convince them of what we are doing.”

Both the application for the Sainsbury’s store on the Nurden garden centre site, and the Waitrose store on land to the rear of Avon Mills, will be heard together by Wiltshire Council’s northern area development committee next year.

Roger Budgen, chairman of the residents’ association, said: “We are very pleased that Wiltshire Council has made the sensible decision to delay the determination of the two supermarket applications until the local community has had time to formulate its Neighbourhood Plan, thereby allowing local people to decide what is best for their community.”

The decision to delay both application has shocked many people locally.

“I was very surprised to hear Wiltshire Council’s decision; I don’t think anyone saw it coming,” said town councillor Kim Power.

“We had the threat of the supermarkets having their applications decided before we’d finished working on our neighbourhood plan, so this is fabulous for local people.

“Our Neighbourhood Plan work did play a part in the refusal of the applications for the 77 houses off Park Road and the 180 houses, Gleesons application.

“Wiltshire Council’s decision is a testament to the amount of hard work put in by our local community with our Neighbourhood Plan.

“There are 21 of us in the Malmesbury Neighbourhood Steering Group, all working our socks off to make sure the best happens for Malmesbury.”

* Waitrose in update for residents.

Waitrose believes its store will provide additional parking to boost town centre shopping, as well as create 140 jobs Critics have expressed their concerns that the store would increase the risk of flooding with run-off water being directed to the already strained river. However, the store has agreed to adopt improved drainage measures, in line with Environment Agency recommendations.

Waitrose’s plans are for a 18,000sq ft store with parking for 200 cars, 50 long stay parking spaces and traffic calming measures on land behind the Silk Mills.

Following the announcement that a decision on the application would be postponed, a Waitrose spokesman said: “We will be guided by Wiltshire Council on when the application will be determined and look forward to updating residents this Thursday.”

Waitrose’s information day is today at the town hall, from noon-9pm.

* Sainsbury’s vow to keep contributing.

Sainsbury's has pledged to work alongside Malmesbury’s Neighbourhood Steering Group as the neighbourhood plans takes shape over the next year.

The food giant’s controversial proposal includes a 30,000sq ft foodstore, petrol station and three employment units at Malmesbury Garden Centre site.

Concerns were raised that the store would harm high street shops so it has offered to reduce the retail space for non-food products.

As to Wiltshire Council’s postponing of a decision on the store, Ben Littman, Sainsbury’s regional development executive, said: “Sainsbury’s believe local people should shape the future growth of Malmesbury and understands the significance of developing a neighbourhood plan locally. We will continue to work alongside the Malmesbury Neighbour-hood Steering Group and are ready to contribute to the process as the neighbourhood plan takes shape.”