UK grocery retailer Wm Morrison Supermarkets has announced that it has agreed to sell nine Safeway stores to rival Sainsbury's.

The stores are located in Acocks Green, Andover, Bitterne, East Kilbride, Eastleigh, Hammersmith, Midsomer Norton, Morden and Slough.

The gross asset value of the stores at 30 January 2005 was approximately £16.8m (US$30.3m). The stores will transfer to Sainsbury's on completion, with all staff also transferring to the new owner.

"These stores give us over 175,000 sq ft of new space, and have an average size of around 20,000 sq ft. They will provide an opportunity to strengthen our market position in town centre locations and deliver future growth," said Sainsbury's CEO Justin King. 

The sale of the stores is conditional on the approval of the UK's Office of Fair Trading.

Sainsbury's said the acquisition is expected to be completed in three tranches in the autumn of 2005. The stores will then be closed for six weeks while they are refurbished and reopen under the Sainsbury's fascia ahead of Christmas.

Last year, Sainsbury's acquired 14 stores from Morrisons (13 Safeway branded stores and one Morrisons store) located primarily in the Midlands and the north of England.   The company said all these stores are now open and trading well.