A proposal to designate Belfast a ‘holiday resort,’ leading to extended Sunday trading hours, has passed the first stage of approval by the city council.
The plan will now go to public consultation.
A report compiled for the council’s Strategic Policy and Resource Committee states there is a “strong lobby” within the city for a review of the current laws.
However, the paper also notes that Department for Communities officials indicated “there may not be any appetite amongst politicians to amend existing legislation on Sunday trading”.
A leading shop workers’ union said extended opening hours would have a detrimental effect on the families of those employed in retail – without raising any additional revenue for traders.
Michala Lafferty of USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) said employees would be put under pressure to give up valuable family time if the changes are eventually approved.
“Many shopworkers, 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 will vigorously campaign against extended Sunday opening.”
Alliance councillor Michael Long sits on the committee that approved the consultation process. He said there was scope to designate either parts or all of the city as a holiday resort.
“The Chamber of Commerce in Belfast has been very keen on this for some time, and other traders, so we’re obviously trying to give Belfast more of an edge. Particularly for tourists on Sunday mornings there is maybe not a lot happening in Belfast city centre, and this would improve the offer we have for tourists coming on weekend breaks so they could use the shops as well.”
Cllr Long said “the impact on workers’ rights” would be taken into account and addressed, but said the changes could take place as early as next March if there was strong support.
His party colleague Kate Nicholl also believes extended hours would be beneficial.
Cllr Nicholl said: “It is understandable people need a day off but there is a balance to be struck in tourist-heavy areas in particular. Recently, I walked through Victoria Square one Sunday morning and came across a group of confused tourists who were keen to spend their money in our shops but were unable to.”
Councillors have been informed the new trading hours are already permitted within the Shops (Sunday Trading) (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
Newry, Portrush, Kilkeel and Ballycastle have already used the existing legislation to extend Sunday opening hours.