THE leader of Worcester City Council has spoken for the first time about the prospect of a £150 million John Lewis-led out-of-town shopping plaza - labelling it a "threat" to the High Street.

Councillor Simon Geraghty has admitted he fears the impact the massive Worcester Woods complex, proposed for land off Newtown Road, could have on the city centre.

It comes as developer Land Securities upped the pressure over its grand ambitions - insisting Worcester will be 'left behind' cities like Birmingham unless the retail plaza gets agreed.

The firm said last month's opening of Birmingham's Grand Central, a dazzling £150 million 52-unit shopping mall including John Lewis, made it even more imperative that Worcester's shopping offer is expanded.

The Second City's gigantic mall is expected to attract 50 million visitors a year, making it one of the most successful in Europe.

The Worcester Woods scheme is due to be voted on by the city council's planning committee some time over the next few months.

Councillor Geraghty said: "If you look at the number of voids in Worcester it's among the lowest in the West Midlands, footfall is holding up pretty well.

"But there is competition to Worcester like Touchwood and Birmingham and there are threats - in my opinion - in terms of out-of-town retail to the city, but that's subject to a planning application."

The comments were made during a county council economy and environment scrutiny panel meeting, where he holds the deputy leader role.

He also said he felt the city centre's retail quality was "quite high" and told councillors he was pleased with how the High Street is shaping up, as well as the riverside.

The criticism comes nine months after Councillor Marc Bayliss, the city council's deputy leader, also publicly criticised the Worcester Woods bid.

As well as John Lewis Land Securities has already signed up Marks & Spencer, Next Home and Garden and Sainsbury's to the 13-unit plaza bid.

Chris Fleetwood, the firm's development director, said with Grand Central now open in Birmingham, Worcester faces "losing more trade to its regional rivals" unless it moved with the times.

"The opening of the Grand Central shopping centre shows that Birmingham continues to go from strength to strength and attract new investment," he said.

"It's vital Worcester looks to the future as it seeks to maintain and improve its position in the regional economy and create new jobs.

"Worcester is losing around £115 million in retail spend every year to other towns and cities in the region including Birmingham.

"New developments such as the Grand Central will only lead to Worcester losing more trade to its regional rivals."

He added: "Worcester Woods will accommodate large scale and modern retail formats that will enable Worcester to compete with new developments such as Grand Central.

"It will complement, rather than directly compete with the city centre."

The existing Next and M&S stores in Worcester would stay open if the complex got the nod.