South Shields undecided on benefits of longer Sunday trading hours

Owner of Off the Rails Sophie Cassell
Owner of Off the Rails Sophie Cassell

Plans for longer shopping hours on a Sunday, likely to be announced in today’s budget, have received a mixed reception from customers and retailers in South Tyneside.

In the biggest shake-up of Sunday trading laws since the 1990s, chancellor George Osborne wants to allow mayors and councils to determine for themselves what the rules should be in their areas.

The existing law prevents larger stores from opening for more than six hours.

It was relaxed as an exception during the 2012 Olympics, resulting in a significant surge in sales.

But both the justification for the move – and the demand for extended hours – has been questioned in the borough.

Sophie Kasaei, who runs the Off the Rails ladies boutique in the Denmark Centre, South Shields, would love to open on a Sunday – if it was worth her while.

She said: “I would happily open up on a Sunday if I thought there was enough trade to justify it, but the reality is that the town is dead and I couldn’t be guaranteed of one sale throughout the day.

“There are very few traders open up on a Sunday around here for that very reason – lack of demand. The only way I could see it happening is if it was just a normal day, for example that outlets such as the Post Office and library were open at the same time, to bring shoppers into the town.”

There was also an equal measure of apathy and excitement at the plans expressed among would-be Sunday shoppers on the Gazette website.

Carolyn Picken wrote: “Good. Sunday trading laws are past it. My relatives who live in Scotland think it’s crazy when they come down. I worked in retail for six years and I would not have a problem.”

Kerry Tubbrit agreed, saying: “It would be great if shops are open longer on Sunday instead of the mad dash in Asda to make sure you are there before it shuts at four. I don’t care about profits they are making, I just want the freedom.”

But Paul Gray was less enthused, saying: “Greater overheads for retailers and a reduction in the quality of life for those working in retail, but customers still only have the same amount to spend regardless of how many hours they have to spend it.”

Mr Osborne has decided decisions on relaxations of the law should be taken at a local level, so that areas which think longer opening hours would boost economic activity are free to go ahead.

The budget is expected to announce a consultation on two proposals: devolving power over Sunday trading law to elected mayors, and also to local authorities.