Council committee blocks plans for 'open all hours' summer Sundays

Royal Avenue in Belfast won't be getting an influx of all-day Sunday shoppers
Royal Avenue in Belfast won't be getting an influx of all-day Sunday shoppers

TOURISTS and consumers will still find Belfast's big shops locked for most of every Sunday this summer - and it's down to a seemingly rare entente between the at-odds main political parties.

Plans to extend Sunday trading hours by designating the northern capital as a 'holiday resort' were rejected by a Belfast City Council vote.

That would have have allowed large shops (3,000 st ft or bigger) - which are currently restricted to a 1pm-6pm shopping window every Sunday - to open all hours on 18 Sundays between March and September.

But despite a public consultation finding that 60 per cent of people are in favour of the change, the Council's strategic policy and resources committee voted 12-3 against the holiday designation - with both the DUP and Sinn Féin (along with the SDLP) united in opposing the plans.

Small traders have welcomed the veto as "a vote to help us survive", but the Belfast chamber of trade voiced its bitter disappointment.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Relaxing Sunday trading would have given an unfair competitive advantage to large supermarkets and disadvantaged local small shops, whose Sunday morning trade is vital for their survival.

"We welcome this vote, which also puts down an important marker to the other 10 local authorities not to consider relaxing Sunday trading through the back door of 'resort status'.”

The lobby group has recommended that the lord mayor convenes a ‘Weekend Summit’ to include Retail NI, Belfast Chamber of Commerce, the Usdaw union and other interested groups to agree a strategy to improve the retail and hospitality offer in Belfast at the weekend for tourists and shoppers.

Roberts added: “Belfast has a fantastic retail and hospitality offer, but we need to look at how the city can further improve the visitor experience and do more to promote our world class independent retailers and enhancing café culture.”

Independent retailers and shop workers had expressed their opposition to the plans, holding a protest outside the City Hall.

Usdaw's deputy general secretary Paddy Lillis believes the current trading arrangements were a "fair compromise".

He said: “Our members in large stores remain absolutely opposed to extended Sunday trading. The number one reason for their opposition is the detrimental effect this would have on their family life.

"They cite real concerns about the additional pressure they would come under to work on Sundays if shops are open longer."

But Gordon McElroy, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said he was disappointed.

"The Chamber represents the entire business community of Belfast - from small independent retailers, coffee shops, bars and restaurants to large multi-nationals - and with their absolute best interests at heart, we believe that extended Sunday trading would positively benefit trade in the city, which would have a cumulative effect across the whole of Northern Ireland.

"We will continue to lobby for Belfast to be designated a holiday resort, which will not only help attract additional visitors to the city, but provide life and vitality to our city for those who currently visit but are frustrated by the lack of business and attractions which are open on Sundays before 1pm."