LAURA Ashley could be forced out of York if a proposal put forward by its landlord and supported by City of York Council planners get the go ahead, the shop chain has warned.

The shopping chain has written to the authority's planning department objecting to a scheme to change 11 Little Stonegate, which it partly occupies, from a shop into a restaurant or bar.

The planning application submitted by the building's owners Rushbond Plc asks for a change of use on the three-storey building, and makes it clear they want the flexibility to use the site as a drinking establishment alone.

But Laura Ashley currently occupies part of the ground floor, which opens into its Davygate shop, and the company's lawyers Pinsent Masons have submitted a formal application saying the proposals would threaten the business and the 18 jobs it sustains in the city.

Their letter said: "Laura Ashley is an established and popular retail store with an established national brand that has provided an attraction destination to local shoppers and visitors of York for the last 32 years.

"The change of use will more than likely result in the exit of Laura Ashley from York city centre due to the shortage of A1 retail units that can accommodate Laura Ashley's space requirements."

The plans have also drawn criticism from members of Guildhall's planning panel, who object to another drinking establishment in what they say is an already problematic area. They are due to be considered by the planning committee after ward councillor Brian Watson raised concerns about the loss of retail space.

But despite the objections, planning officers have recommended the scheme for approval by the planning area sub committee when it meets on Thursday, saying the plans will not cause "undue harm" to the street's vitality, and would boost the area by bringing the whole Little Stonegate unit back into use.