Downpatrick supermarket made to cut back on Sunday opening hours

The Ballymote SuperValu store in Downpatrick. Picture by Philip Walsh
The Ballymote SuperValu store in Downpatrick. Picture by Philip Walsh

A FAMILY-run supermarket in Downpatrick is thought to be the first in Northern Ireland forced to amend its weekend opening hours as part of a major crackdown by the 11 new super councils on Sunday trading.

The Ballymote SuperValu store on the Killough Road is understood to have fallen foul of regulations which restrict shops of over 280 square metres (3,000 sq ft) to just five hours of trading on the Sabbath.

And despite having operated from 7am until 10pm on Sundays for around 20 years, from tomorrow it will only serve customers from noon to 5pm.

The owner of the supermarket was visited before Christmas by officers from Newry, Mourne & Down Council and advised by letter on the legislation around Sunday opening hours.

With its hands effectively tied, it is understood the Ballymote store then voluntarily chose to cut its Sunday trading hours rather than face possible enforcement.

Retailers can be fined up to £50,000 if they flout the rules.

And the Irish News understands that some, if not all, of the other councils in the north are now preparing to follow Newry, Mourne & Down's lead and insist that these larger types of stores adhere strictly to the law.

Some pressure is thought to have been exerted on the councils by the large multinationals like Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda, who can only open from 1pm to 6pm, but who in some towns see stores almost of a comparable size trade for three times longer.

SuperValu is part of the Musgrave grocery and food distributor group, and it current has 36 independently-owned stores throughout Northern Ireland.

The smaller ones are governed by the Shops (Sunday Trading) (NI) Order 1997, which allows them unrestricted opening on Sundays, but those which are - or expand to - beyond the size threshold must reel back on their hours if they currently trade all day.

A spokesman for the Musgrave Group said: "Following a visit from Newry, Mourne and Down Council before Christmas, SuperValu Downpatrick was advised by letter to the store on the laws around Sunday opening hours, and as it is over 280 square metres, trading hours should be restricted to five hours on a Sunday.

"SuperValu Downpatrick was also advised that extended opening hours can be requested for 18 Sundays from April to September."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Social Development said enforcement of the Sunday trading laws is a matter for local councils.

She added: “The Northern Ireland Sunday shopping laws were last reviewed in 2011. Responses to the consultation confirmed that public opinion on the sensitive issue of Sunday shopping hours remains divided. There are currently no plans to undertake a further review of Sunday shopping hours.”