Plans for longer Sunday trading hours rejected

Royal Avenue, Belfast
Royal Avenue, Belfast

Belfast City Council’s decision not to extend Sunday trading hours means shopworkers will have more quality time to spend with their families, it has been claimed.

On Friday morning, city councillors voted 12-3 against the move, with Sinn Féin, the SDLP and DUP all opposing the plan.

The proposal to designate the city as a ‘holiday resort’ would have meant large shops could have opened all day on 18 Sundays between March and September.

Current law states that shops over 3000 sq ft can only open from 1pm on Sundays.

A public consultation found a majority of people were in favour of longer opening hours, with 62% of almost 2,500 responses supporting the idea.

But retail groups were split on the idea and the shop workers’ union, Usdaw, opposed it.

Some shop workers protested against the plan outside city hall on Friday morning.

The decision not to extend opening hours has been welcomed by Retail NI.

“This would have given a further unfair competitive advantage to large supermarkets and disadvantaged local small shops, whose Sunday morning trade is vital for their survival,” said Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts.

“Furthermore this vote puts down an important marker to the other 10 local councils not to consider relaxing Sunday trading through the back door of resort status.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s Deputy General Secretary also expressed her “delight” at the outcome of the vote.

She added: “This is the right decision for Belfast and we will now continue to make our case to all councillors ahead of them voting on the committee’s recommendation.

“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 shopworkers can spend some time with their family.”

However, Alliance Councillor Michael Long, who backed the proposal, felt the decision represented “a missed opportunity to give Belfast an edge”.

He told the News Letter: “I am very disappointed at this outcome. We (Alliance) felt the proposal gave a good balance between worker’s rights and the need to regenerate the city centre by increasing the number of tourists coming in.

“It would only have amounted to an extra 36 hours a year for workers over the course of a year, yet the benefits for the city would have been enoromous. We need to think more progressively.”