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Belfast Sunday trading plans 'shows lack of imagination' - retailers reject proposal to extend opening hours



Tourists are often left bemused at Belfast's Sunday opening hours.

Tourists are often left bemused at Belfast's Sunday opening hours.

Tourists are often left bemused at Belfast's Sunday opening hours.

Belfast's independent retailers have rejected a plan to extend Sunday trading hours saying it lacks imagination and gives the big high street names another advantage.

Belfast council's consultation to designate the city as a holiday resort closes on Friday. Under the plan, shops will be allowed to open for longer on 18 Sundays between March and September.

The provision would exclude opening on Easter Sunday and only apply to those shops over 280 sq metres in floor space - or around the size of a tennis court - to trade.

The council said the proposal was made in response to a "strong lobby" within the city, primarily from Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, as a means of improving Belfast’s tourism offering, boosting the local economy and supporting the city centre’s regeneration.

The current law states that shops over three thousand square feet can only open from 1pm.

They need to do something different, not just replicate the other six days of the week. Glyn Roberts

Independent retailers have rejected the plan. Retail NI, which represents small independent traders said the plan lacked imagination. Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said it would benefit large supermarkets and wipe out small traders.

"This would remove the last tiny step up they have," he said.

"This is would have a very serious impact and could cost jobs. It is not necessary."

Mr Roberts said the council should consider more innovative ideas to attract people into the city before 1pm on a Sunday.

"They should look at extending markets, a cafe culture or making it a focus on small business and we would work with them on it. They talk about building tourism - they need to do something different, not just replicate the other six days of the week.

"Supermarkets already have an advantage by being able to offer free car parking. The few hours trading our members have on Sundays before the multinationals open at 1pm are absolutely vital to the survival of their businesses.

"This has the potential to finish business. We want as much a level playing field as possible where large and small can thrive together. The current Sunday trading laws are already a compromise and we see no need for widespread change.”

'85% of retail workers oppose extended Sunday trading in Belfast'

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) has said its members are absolutely opposed to extended Sunday trading.

John Hannett - Usdaw general secretary said: "The current Sunday trading arrangements are a fair compromise, which has worked well for 20 years, and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shop workers can spend some time with their family.

"Our members in large stores remain absolutely opposed to extended Sunday trading. The number one reason for their opposition is the detrimental effect this would have on their family life. They cite real concerns about the additional pressure they would come under to work on Sundays if shops are open longer.

"Many workers, particularly parents, tell us how important Sunday is to them and their family. Often it is the one day of the week when everyone can sit down together for a meal, with many saying they needed the time on Sunday to help their children prepare for the school week.

"We remain absolutely opposed to extended Sunday trading. Crucially, even the supporters of extended Sunday opening hours have not been able to show it will lead to economic benefits or job creation. Longer opening hours do not mean people have more money to spend, so large stores have higher opening costs, but similar takings.”

"Sundays would lose a lot of what makes them special and we do not believe that Belfast City Council should pass their proposals."

Usdaw survey results

In November 2016 Usdaw conducted a survey of over 600 members working in retail in Northern Ireland. It found that;

  • 81% of respondents currently work at least some Sundays whilst over a quarter work every Sunday
  • 85% of respondents thought that shops should not open longer on Sundays
  • Almost two thirds of respondents said that they already come under pressure to work on Sundays
  • Over half of respondents have some form of caring responsibilities, either for children or sick or elderly relatives.  Of these, over three quarters work some Sundays already and over two-thirds are under pressure to work on Sundays.  41% find it difficult to arrange suitable alternative care whilst they are at work