Biggest shopping centres press for end to Sunday restrictions

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Britain's biggest shopping centres are to campaign foran extension in Sunday trading hours.

Britain's biggest shopping centres are to campaign foran extension in Sunday trading hours.

Managers from malls including Bluewater in Kent, Lakeside in Essex and the Metro Centre in Gateshead will meet in Manchester today to discuss how to persuade the Government to relax the rules that restrict Sunday opening to six hours.

Ron Woodman, general manager of the Metro Centre, which has 380 retailers, said: "Discussions are in their very preliminary stages but the issues involved in asking the Government for a change in the law to allow us to open for longer is something we will be considering.

"Sunday is now the second most popular shopping day after Saturday and although it is up to the individual stores whether they choose to open, profits are such that 99 per cent choose to do so. But it is not something we will go ahead with without first consulting all our retailers and all the staff who would be affected."

James Lindsay, business director of the Trafford Centre in Manchester, added: "Our aim is to get all 700 shopping centres open for the full day."

The move will anger religious campaigners and shop workers' unions who vigorously opposed the change in the law in 1994 that finally allowed big stores to trade on Sunday if they accepted limits. That reform followed a longstanding campaign that saw hundreds of shops flout the law by opening seven days a week.

Dr Michael Schluter, director of the Keep Sunday Special Campaign, said: "The decision to allow the largest stores to open at all on a Sunday was taken on the narrowest of votes in the House of Commons and it was meant as a compromise between campaigners on both sides. So for them to try and shift the goalposts within six years seems to be an unnecessary infringement on the concerns of those who oppose it.

"Most people who work in shops are poorly qualified and not in a position to refuse to work on a Sunday even if they don't want to for fear of getting sacked.

"The six-hour rule at least means they get some time at the beginning and end of the day to spend with their families and this should be protected at all costs."

The shopworkers' union Usdaw is also strongly against any move to extend Sunday trading. A spokesman said: "We expect a Labour government to uphold the rights of the workers."

But yesterday, shoppers at Bluewater near Dartford, Britain's biggest shopping centre, seemed in favour of longer shopping hours.

Graham Hudson, a teacher from Streatham, south London, said: "For many people, Sunday is one of the onlytimes they get to shop and it's very inconvenient that you can't start earlier than 11 or later than five."

Christine Pettifer, a housewife from Cann, Dorset, said: "I'm sure the vast majority of people would like to be able to shop whenever they like."

The Home Office said there were no plans to review the issue. A spokesman said: "The rules say any store with an internal floor area of more than 280 square metres is not allowed to open for any longer than six hours on a Sunday."