Small shopkeepers fight proposals to relax Sunday trading laws before Christmas

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The Independent Online

Small shops hit back at a push by large retail chains for a relaxation in Sunday trading laws that would allow them to trade for longer on Boxing Day this year, arguing that the change was opposed by the majority of the public.

More than three-quarters of the public support the existing laws and only 5 per cent want a relaxation of the current trading regime, according to a survey conducted for the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

James Lowman, the chief executive of the ACS, which represents 33,500 stores, said: "Local shops benefit from the current restrictions because it supports a balance towards local shopping in small stores on a Sunday.

"This is a balance customers are clearly happy with, and unsettling this would have a significant impact on the viability of local shops to trade not just on Sundays but throughout the year." It emerged at the weekend that some of Britain's biggest retailers, including Topshop, New Look, House of Fraser and Selfridges, have written to the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, requesting deregulation of the Sunday trading laws. Their campaign calls for a change in the law to allow retailers to trade for a full day on Boxing Day, which falls on a Sunday this year.

Sir Philip Green, the owner of Bhs and Arcadia, whose brands include Topman and Miss Selfridge, said: "Many people like shopping on the first day of the sale, so it seems sensible when Boxing Day falls on a Sunday to give customers as much flexibility and time as possible for their traditional post Christmas Sales shop."

Footfall in UK high streets reached a record on Boxing Day last year, which fell on a Saturday. Since 1994, shops larger than 3,000 square feet have been allowed to trade for six hours on a Sunday, between 10am and 6pm, but there is no such restriction for smaller shops. The ACS said Gfk NOP interviewed 1,000 people aged 16 and over between 26 and 28 March, and 85 per cent of them did not want stores to open longer on Boxing Day.

With the general election being called yesterday for 6 May, the issue will not now be considered until the next parliament. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "There is no current plan to change the Sunday trading law."

Some garden centre operators are also calling for a liberalisation of the law, which bans them from selling products on Easter Sunday. The British Retail Consortium is not campaigning on the issue because although it has members who want the laws changed, some are happy with the current regime.