Tesco China chief executive Ken Towle is to return to the UK to take over the online operation under the newly-created role of director of internet retailing.

Towle, who has led Tesco’s Chinese operation for the last five years, will take over in March as part of the creation of the new UK board.

He will replace Laura Wade-Gery, current chief executive of Tesco.com, who becomes head of the UK non-food division.

Nick Lansley, head of research and development at Tesco.com, said the reason Towle has a different title to Wade-Gery is that Tesco.com is becoming more integrated to Tesco PLC under incoming group chief executive Phil Clarke.

Prior to moving to China, Towle worked on Tesco’s fledgling online operation in the 1990s.

In China, Towle has set up the key planks to Tesco’s growth, both through superstores and shopping malls. Over the next five years Tesco plans to open around 40m sq ft of retail space in China with a £4bn investment together with its partners and build up a property empire of 80 malls.

It is not yet known who will replace Towle in China.