Belfast looks to extend Sunday trading hours

Belfast Sunday opening hours

Belfast City Council is to open a second public consultation over the issue of allowing larger shops the ability to trade longer opening hours.

Currently, smaller shops – those with a floor area of up to 280 square metres – can choose their own trading hours, while larger shops can open only between 1pm and 6pm. The proposal would allow those larger shops to open for longer on 18 Sundays between March and September.

During a meeting of the council’s Strategic Policy & Resources Committee on February 16, members referred to the first public consultation on the subject, which concluded in early May 2017. With that first public consultation having been roundly dismissed, some are surprised that the discussion is open again.

“We were shocked and disappointed that this has been brought up again,” says Michelle Lafferty, area organiser for union body the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw). “It shows a distinct lack of understanding. Sunday is the only day smaller retailers have an advantage because they can trade 24 hours a day.”

The allowance for an exemption is stipulated in a 1997 order that allows for larger shops in areas deemed “holiday resorts” to extend their opening hours during the summer months, in order to increase tourism. A number of areas currently qualify, including Derry-Londonderry, Newry, Kilkeel, Portrush, Portstewart and Ballycastle.

The issue is divisive: in the original consultation, in which 2,471 individuals and organisations responded, 62 percent said Belfast should allow larger shops to extend trading hours, with the remainder voting against. However, following the consultation last year, councillors voted against the designation by 12 votes to three.

“It’s very frustrating,” says Lafferty. “The question has already been answered. Last year every political party aside from the Alliance said on June 1 that they would not support Belfast becoming designed as a holiday resort.”

Should the consultation favour the change in Sunday opening hours, a second vote will take place among council members. If that’s formally approved the new trading hours rules could come into place as soon as June 1. Subsequently, a full review has been proposed between September 31 2018 and March 2019.

“If this could create jobs or boost the economy then we’d be in full support but it won’t,” says Lafferty. “There’s a lot more to Belfast than Victoria Square and Castle Court. Belfast City Council should be a bit more creative in supporting the smaller players and our many boutique retailers.”

Given the legal structure of the process Belfast City Council is unable to provide comment relating to ongoing proposals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *