Tory Government to delegate Sunday trading powers to local bodies

Local authority chiefs are to be given the power to relax Sunday trading laws restricting the opening hours of large stores in their areas under new Government proposals.

Councils in England and Wales will be given the choice of whether they want to ease the current rules limiting shops with over 280 sq m (3,000 sq ft) floorspace to six hours opening on a Sunday.

Under the plans, set out in a Government consultation paper, authorities would have the discretion to decide whether to apply the new conditions throughout the whole their area or limit them to specific zones where they want to encourage business.

Potentially, it could mean councils allowing longer Sunday trading in traditional high streets while excluding out-of-town supermarkets.

Communities Minister Brandon Lewis said: "This Government is determined to devolve powers previously held in Whitehall to local people.

"That's why we want to give local leaders the power to decide whether Sunday trading is right for their area, and to give their retailers the option to stay open for longer.

"We have already taken a range of measures to boost the Great British high street and now we are giving local areas another tool to encourage shoppers to the town centre and get shops to grow and thrive."

Under the plans, local government leaders such as elected metro mayors could be given the right to extend Sunday trading hours in their area through individual "devolution deals" which will see a range of powers handed down from Whitehall.

Alternatively the Government could act to enable all local authorities in England and Wales power to ease restrictions in their area.

The publication of the consultation paper comes after Chancellor George Osborne signalled the Government's intention to overhaul the existing law, which dates back to 1994, in last month's Budget.

Ministers say the change could generate £1.4 billion in benefits to the economy and will help bricks-and-mortar retailers to remain competitive in the current era of online shopping.

However the proposals were strongly criticised by the shopworkers' union Usdaw, which argued the current system was working well and did not need to change.

"The proposal to devolve trading hours to elected mayors and local authorities would create chaos in the retail sector, tying up business in red tape as they try to operate under different regulatory regimes in every area of the country," said union general secretary John Hannett.

"The Sunday Trading Act is a great British compromise, which has worked well for over 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.

"I hope that everyone who values this compromise and the special nature of Sunday will respond to the Government's consultation and ask them to drop their plans to extend Sunday trading."