The owners of exclusive department stores Selfridge's and Fortnum and Mason are rumoured to be in the running to buy Brighton's most iconic hotel.

The Grand, in King's Road, has been linked with the company Wittington Investments, who are also a parent company of Primark.

While current owners, the De Vere Group, would not confirm the rumours, a spokesman said “an exclusivity agreement” with a “third party” had been signed for the sale following “strong expressions of interest from a range of potential purchasers”.

The Grand was put on the market in November as the De Vere Group sought to ease a £1.1 billion debt.

The firm, which has owned the listed hotel for the past 20 years, has just completed the sale of its venues division, which includes the East Sussex National in Uckfield, for £232 million.

The 150-year-old Grand was rebuilt in 1984 following an IRA bomb which ripped through the property during the Tory Party conference.

The group recently spent more than £7 million on improvements to the 201-room hotel including a new spa, an improved bar, a new restaurant and refurbished bedrooms.

A spokesman said: “The board of De Vere Group announces that, in line with its strategy of realising enhanced value, the group has completed the sale of its venues division to Starwood Capital for £232m.

“Following the disposal of Venues, the company comprises 25 village urban resorts, plus two currently in the course of construction, and six De Vere Golf Resort hotels.

“The company has now signed an exclusivity agreement with a third party for the sale of Grand Brighton, following strong expressions of interest from a range of potential purchasers.”

Wittington Investments, which is the investment arm of the multi-billion pound Weston family, is said to be the front runner.

As well as owning exclusive London retailer Fortnum and Mason, the family is at the helm of iconic Oxford Street department store Selfridge's.

They also have a stake in the homeware chain Heal's, which has a store in Duke Street, and own upscale department stores in Holland and Ireland.

However the bulk of their sales is said to come from retail giant Primark, of which they are a parent company.

The family also have a stake in Associated British Foods' which include brands such as Twinings tea, Ryvita and Patak's.

The historic hotel, built in 1864, has been a much loved city landmark for 150 years.

It hit the front pages of newspapers across the world in 1984 when an IRA bomb killed five and injured more than 30.

Their target was the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who was there for the Conservative Party conference.

City tourism expert, Adam Bates, said the identity of the buyer was not important as long as they invested in the historic hotel.

The former head of Visit Brighton, said: “Hotels are bought and sold with great regularity often without the users and wider public knowing much about it.

“As long as whoever owns it can bring in investment to maintain or improve the standard and reputation of the hotel then it doesn't matter too much.

“If that is the case then it is not only good for the hotel but also for the wider city.

“I have no cause for concern from what I have heard so far.”

The now director of website, added: “We are lucky to have such an iconic landmark hotel.

“There are not many hotels in Europe in which you could show someone a picture and they could immediately locate it. That's what The Grand is to Brighton.

“It also reflects the history of the city. While it was perhaps not the first hotel in Brighton it has been there for as long as we have been welcoming visitors.

“When people think of Brighton they think of the pier and the Pavilion but they also think of The Grand. It's of huge importance to the city.”

Wittington Investments declined to comment.