Councillors vote against extending Sunday trading hours for a second time

Belfast councillors have voted against extending Sunday trading hours in the city
Belfast councillors have voted against extending Sunday trading hours in the city

BELFAST councillors have voted against extending Sunday trading hours in the city.

At a Policy and Resources Committee meeting yesterday councillors ruled against designating Belfast city centre as a ‘holiday resort’ for a second time, by a vote of 16 to four. Had the proposal been passed the designation would have allowed large shops (3,000 sq ft or bigger) – which are currently restricted to a 1pm to 6pm shopping window every Sunday – to open all hours on 18 Sundays between March and September.

At Friday morning’s meeting, Sinn Fein council group leader Deirdre Hargey proposed that the committee do not accede to the request to extend the Sunday trading hours and along with SDLP group leader Tim Attwood said they had not seen enough evidence of the benefits of extending the hours.

Alliance councillors Emmet McDonagh Brown and Sian O’Neill, alongside PUP representative Billy Hutchinson and Independent councillor Patrick Convery voted to extend the trading hours.

Last May Belfast councillors also voted overwhelmingly against extending Sunday opening hours, while two public consultations have also taken place in the past year, with the latest revealing just over half of respondents (50.7 per cent) were against the designation and 48.7 per cent for the move. Combining the two consultations, there is a slight majority (52.8 per cent) in favour of extending the current trading rules.

Shop workers trade union Usdaw and independent retailers’ organisation Retail NI have vehemently opposed the designation since it was first proposed and said councillors had made the right decision.

“If the proposed change had gone ahead it would have placed extra pressure on retail workers and would have had a damaging effect on small independent retailers who trade on a Sunday morning," Retail NI chief executive, Glyn Roberts said.

"This proposal would have resulted in a number of local community independent retailers closing. These are retailers who provide an invaluable community service for many elderly, disabled and people without cars. We now need to focus on moving forward and agree a broader strategy to grow the weekend economy of Belfast."

Retail NI has tabled proposals for a Small Shop Sunday campaign to encourage shoppers and tourists to support the city’s smaller retailers on a Sunday morning between 11am to 1pm, allowing large retailers to continue to trade from 1pm onwards.

Earlier this week Usdaw urged Belfast City Council not to revisit plans to extend Sunday trading hours in the city.

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said holding a further consultation is a “waste of council time and resources”.

“There has been no change in the public mood, economic situation or impact on our members, their colleagues and communities over the last nine months,” he said.

The Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce is strongly behind the proposals and believe the changes would “positively benefit trade in the city, which would have a cumulative effect across the whole of Northern Ireland”.