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Row Over Plans To Relax Sunday Trading Laws

(c) Sky News 2012

Relaxed Sunday trading rules for the Olympics could pave the way for longer opening hours in future - despite assurances that would not be the case.

MPs (BSE: MPSLTD.BO - news) voted in favour of reducing the restrictions on large stores as a way of boosting the economy for seven weeks until after the Paralympics.

But now the Government has admitted it will consider just how successful the temporary relaxation has been - a move seen by many as a major breach of trust.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said: "The Government should deliver on its promise, and they said this would be a temporary move only.

"There is also a fairness point - and that is fairness for shopworkers who deserve to have some downtime, time with their families perhaps playing sports, perhaps even going to church."

As the rules usually stand, stores larger than 280sqm or 3000sqft can only open for six hours on Sundays at any time between 10am and 6pm. Owners who flout the rules could face a £50,000 fine.

But for seven Sundays up until September 9, those shops can in theory trade 24/7.

The opportunity to open longer has been taken at Chapelfield Shopping Centre in Norwich.

General manager Davina Tanner said: "Ultimately we're living in a world that's fast moving and for people to have more choice when they can shop on Sunday is a very positive thing."

But what is good news for the big retailers is bad news for convenience stores.

Sales at the Stalham Shopper in North Norfolk have been down 20% on the past three Sundays.

"We rely very much on our sales on Sunday," said owner Nigel Dowdney.

"We open longer hours than Tesco (LSE: TSCO.L - news) do and it's a very important part of our earnings. Across my two stores I employ 42 people so that's 42 jobs that could be at risk."

Philip Browne, a menswear shop in Norwich, only trades for five hours on Sundays. If it was not for the pressure of competition, the owner says he would not open at all.

"I really believe passionately that that day should be a day when people get together and spend the day together. The staff shouldn't be obliged to work within a seven day week," Mr Browne said.

It is a view shared by the unions and the church.

But the Archdeacon of Norwich said concern over Sunday trading was about much more than people not coming to church.

"It's about something much bigger than that," said The Venerable Jan McFarlane.

"People need to have the chance to have time to reflect, relax and spend time with their family."

But at Chapelfield most shoppers liked the idea.

"As long as it's helping people and keeping people in jobs and work and people making money, I think things could be relaxed a little," said Matthew Williams.

Busy teacher Hayley Reeve liked the idea of more chances to shop, but also had sympathy with the staff.

"For the people who have to work, forcing them to have to do those hours as well, that's a bit unfair for them," she said.

The Government is desperate to boost the ailing economy and there are those who think the more chances to shop the better.

But even at the top of the coalition there are ministers opposed to any deregulation. There is no doubt a permanent change to the law will not come without a fight.