Ministers’ plans to boost high streets by extending Sunday trading hours will not be “game-changing” and are unlikely to be a boon for supermarkets, according to retail experts.

On Tuesday, the government announced that Sunday trading laws are to be scrapped by the autumn, meaning councils will have the power to allow large shops and supermarkets to open for more than six hours on Sundays.
John Witherell, senior director in CBRE’s retail team, said he believes that the proposals are “not going be the game-changer the government thinks they will be”.

Independent convenience stores had campaigned most strongly against Sunday trading reform out of fear that trade would shift to larger stores.

However, Witherell said that supermarkets, which themselves have built large estates of smaller stores in recent years, were unlikely to see any significant benefit either. “All that will happen is that sales will be spread over a longer trading time, but they will also have higher operating costs,” he said.

Ministers are hoping the new approach will give Britain’s retail sector a boost. However, Ed Cooke, head of policy at the British Council for Shopping Centres, said the policy was misguided. “If the government was going to do anything to save the high street, it should be to reduce business rates,” he said.

An amendment will be added to the Enterprise Bill, which is currently passing through parliament, to enable the changes. Under the legislation, councils will be able to set ‘zones’ where the new hours will apply, meaning that they can exclude some areas. So far, few have made clear what their policy would be, but Cooke added that the legislation may enable them to “set arbitrary red lines around shopping centres”.

Witherell said council boundaries would also be an issue, particularly in large cities with multiple high streets, which could see a “bizarre situation where large shops on one side of the street will be able to open longer hours, while those on the other side cannot”.

Russell Smith, head of retail at planning consultancy Rapleys, added that a “tug of war” could ensue between local authorities, with less affluent ones being keener to embrace longer hours, and neighbouring councils feeling pressured to increase theirs to “keep up with the Joneses”.

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