Belfast Telegraph

D-Day for council vote on extending Sunday trading hours in Belfast

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

Belfast City Councillors will tomorrow morning decide on whether or not to extend Sunday trading hours in the city.

Representatives were due to vote on the motion last week, however several parties asked for more time to gather information.

Tomorrow’s vote on designating Belfast a “holiday resort”, which will allow allow large shops to extend their trading hours on 18 Sundays each year, follows one committee vote and two public consultations on the issue in the last 12 months.

Combining the two consultations there is a slight majority (52.8%) in favour of extending Sunday trading hours for large shops in the Belfast district.

First time round, the proposals were rejected by the SDLP , Sinn Fein and the DUP.

On Thursday, a Ulster Unionist Party spokesperson said the party was “still considering various options”.

Both the Alliance Party and the Progressive Unionist Party support the proposals.

Sinn Fein did not respond to a request for comment, however sources say the party was still considering its options on Thursday night.

Tim Attwood, SDLP party leader at BCC, said they have given “careful consideration” to the debate around the issue.

“There is a need to balance economic issues verses workers’ rights. At the minute, there is no detailed research to show the exact benefits in Belfast of earlier opening on Sundays,” he said.

“We believe what is required in the city centre is to animate the city and provide more cultural activities that will increase opportunities for citizens and tourists.”

Trade unions representing both retail workers and shopworkers are against the proposals.

USDAW, the union for shopworkers, several of whom protested against the proposals outside City Hall last week, urged its members to make “one last push” and persuade councillors to vote against the motion.

“Our members remain absolutely opposed to extended Sunday trading,” added general secretary-elect Paddy Lillis.

"The current Sunday trading arrangements are a fair compromise, which has worked well for over 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 shopworkers can spend some time with their family."

Retail NI boss Glyn Roberts warned councillors that a vote in favour of extending the trading hours would be a “major mistake” that would set a “dangerous precedent” for other councils.

“The current arrangements are already a hard fought compromise and I would urge councillors to support independent retailers and vote against the proposals,” he said.

“Other councils are looking to Belfast on this issue, voting in favour would be a major mistake.”

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