A REFERENDUM on the controversial Waitrose plan will take place in Marlow in the next few weeks after a group of residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding one.

Seventy-eight of the 90 voters at the Annual Parish Meeting held in Court Garden on Tuesday voted in favour of the referendum despite the fact that it will cost thousands of pounds to re-open polling stations.

Those who voted for the poll are backing Sawyer's Funeral Service in West Street part of which could be knocked down to make way for Waitrose's 25,000sq ft proposed development. Waitrose has not given the 100-year-old business an alternative location but says it would discuss this if its plans are approved.

The question that will be asked in the referendum which is expected to be held at the beginning of June will be: "Is it in the compelling public interest that Wycombe District Council should execute a Compulsory Purchase Order to expropriate land behind West Street owned by the Sawyer family to enable Waitrose to build a new superstore in Marlow yes or no?"

Paul Kerry, of Spinfield Lane, took the plunge and called for the referendum under the Local Government Act 1972.

He said: "It's been said that the district council is likely to start the Waitrose application so we think it's important to hold a referendum."

The poll could prove to be vital if a public inquiry is staged to decide whether or not Sawyer's should be compulsorily purchased.

But an inquiry would only follow if Waitrose's plan was approved by the district council and it would have to decide whether the purchase was in the public interest.

But despite Tuesday's show of hands, the town council is concerned about how much the referendum will cost its tax payers many of whom are likely to be in favour of Waitrose' plans.

Mayor Cllr Richard Scott warned residents before the votes were cast: "If the poll is called, the result is not binding on Wycombe District Council. And there's a cost which could be several thousand pounds to Marlow taxpayers. This town council has been quite prudent over the years but the cost of this poll might jeopardise some other services."

Afterwards, he added: "To incur added costs at this stage just seems unnecessary. Permission has not been given, a CPO has not been issued."

The town council fears the poll could cost as much as £3,500 the cost of the town elections in 2003. Katherine Joy, deputy town clerk, said yesterday: "There is not a pot of money anywhere else. So yes, the taxpayers will be paying for this. Whether there's a knock-on effect on next year's precept, it's too early to say."

Waitrose has previously commented that it would be up to the district council to apply for a compulsory purchase order.