Should Norwich city centre shops stay open for longer on Sundays?

Norwich city centre businesses are being asked whether or not they support extended Sunday trading.

Norwich city centre businesses are being asked whether or not they support extended Sunday trading. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Store bosses in Norwich city centre are being asked to make clear whether they would be in favour of longer Sunday opening hours, in what would be the biggest shake-up in trading laws for 20 years.

With the government pledging to give local councils the power to allow shops to stay open longer, business leaders are gauging the appetite for extended hours on Sundays.

The existing Sunday trading laws were introduced more than 20 years ago and mean large stores, with more than 3,000 sq ft of space, can only open for six consecutive hours on Sundays. Shops smaller than that can stay open all day.

But under potential changes, announced by George Osborne in last month's Budget, local authorities would have the discretion to create zones where stores could open for longer.

And, with some 80 stores in the city centre potentially affected by any change, the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) has launched a survey to establish whether bosses would be open to longer hours.

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Stefan Gurney, executive director of the BID, said: 'What we want to do is inform how the local authority views this, across the piste, when they come to make their decisions.

'It really does come down to the way consumers want to access the city centre. People see the city as almost a 24 hour, seven day a week culture and want it to fit the way they live their lives.

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'But that is offset against the need for a work life balance and whether that is fair for the retailers and the workforce.

'That's why we want all the businesses to comment, so we can present their views to the city council.'

The government started its own consultation over the reforms earlier this month.

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: 'Currently, we are not taking any action relating to the announcement and would only do so in response to demand from local businesses.

'If the option were to be explored, it would be in full consultation with businesses of all sizes affected by the proposed change.'

But communities minister Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, 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.'

However, The Ven Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich, recently said there was a 'deep wisdom' in the Christian tradition of one day in seven being a day of rest.

She said: 'Shopping is often quoted as being a leisure activity, but a quick look around the city centre on a Sunday afternoon is enough to prove not all families are having a good time.

'We seem to rapidly be becoming a country of people who don't know what to do unless it involves shopping, and that is a cause for great sadness.'

Unions, including the TUC and Usdaw have also opposed the move, saying it would deny shopworkers time with their families.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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