Analysis: Easter Sunday trading questioned by garden centre industry figures

Bizarre Easter Sunday trading laws are ripe for testing and desperately need reform say Britain's biggest garden centre bosses.

Matthew Appleby explores the arguments on either side of relaxing the Easter trading laws - image: HW
Matthew Appleby explores the arguments on either side of relaxing the Easter trading laws - image: HW

Garden centres are already facing poor weather, panic over potential petrol strikes, a poor economy and a hosepipe ban for gardeners in seven water regions starting on 5 April and are missing out on what could be a £100m payday on Easter Sunday.

The 129-branch Garden Centre Group CEO Nicholas Marshall has labelled the Easter Sunday trading ban "bizarre" and suggested that some other centres might break the law to satisfy demand.

He said: "Some other centres may open. Some local authorities are more draconian than others. It’s a bizarre law. In our multicultural society to have a law that says you can’t go to a garden centre and buy plants but you can buy pornography is bizarre."

Marshall will open his garden centre restaurants to his 2m garden club members but will not sell any gardening goods.

Dobbies

Tesco-owned Dobbies garden centres chief executive James Barnes, who is allowed to open half of Dobbies’ 32 centres because they are in Scotland, but not the rest which are in England and Northern Ireland, said Easter could be better if the Government stretched the Sunday trading exemption for the eight weeks around the London Olympics to Easter: "I would be hopeful that the extension to Easter Sunday trading is going to be in place for the Olympics is going to be extended. I've always felt that garden centres are part of a family day out and garden centres always used to be open on Easter Sunday – it used to be one of the biggest days of the year [before the Sunday Trading Act 1994]. I'd be in favour of legislation changing that.
"I think there is a special case for garden centres because gardening is the nation's biggest hobby and with the family outing particularly around Easter we almost demand special status."

Last week, the Government extended Sunday trading beyond six hours on the eight weeks from 22 July for the Olympic Games. Most garden retailers said they would only benefit a little.

Blackdown Garden Centre in Somerset will take the risk and open on Easter Sunday. A staff member said: "We’ll open from 10-4.30pm. It’s because you can open either on Boxing Day or Easter Sunday and we chose Easter Sunday."

And Kent-based Coolings MD Gary Carvosso will also open. He said: "We can open on Easter Sunday because we produce the majority of our own plants. But we’re reticent to shout about it because we don’t want to upset the local authority, and some people like it that places are shut on Easter Sunday."

Olympics

George Osborne’s budget extended Sunday trading beyond six hours on eight weekends from 22 July, to celebrate the Olympics.

Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) marketing director Andrew Maxted said: "Clearly the fact that the government is willing to listen to arguments in favour of relaxation to the Sunday trading legislation is welcome, although this summer’s proposed changes around the London 2012 games will come too late in the season to bring significant benefit to most garden centres."

Scotdsales MD and HTA past president Caroline Owen said: "We’re very happy about the proposal and hope it is the start of something bigger. If we can prove opening on Sundays for longer helps people spend more money and lifts pressure on the economy the Government will have to relax it. The Olympics timing is not ideal for garden centres but we will take advantage of it."

Chancellor George Osborne said: "It would be a great shame - particularly when some of the big Olympic events are on Sunday - if the country had a closed for business sign on it."

Garden Centre Association chairman Peter Burks said Easter Sunday trading could make up a quarter of sales for that Easter Week and that consumers were confused about the law.

He added: "It is brilliant news and I hope it is a chink in the door. People want to shop on Sundays. Easter Sunday is a day consumers don’t understand why we’re closed and should be changed. People are gagging to test the law and are within an inch of doing it but no-one wants the £50,000 fine for outing their head above the parapet."

HTA policy manager Gary Scroby said: "We welcome this move. Albeit for a limited period, a couple of months would provide an important boost to the economy, or is at least worth a try."

He added that Easter Sunday is a "thorn in the side" of the garden centre industry but said the HTA would not be recommending testing the law this Easter.

He said negative responses to last year’s Red Tape Challenge on Sunday Trading showed how difficult it would be for the Government to relax Sunday trading laws. But he added that he believes garden centres could win an exemption as family-friendly, out of town businesses.

Easter weather is set to be much poorer than in recent weeks, said the Met Office. From Good Friday weather will be cloudy, with outbreaks of rain at first, worse in the north and east. Saturday will be clearer with the risk of a frost, with rain later in the north. Weather will be "generally unsettled thereafter".

 New Zealand

Few UK garden centres broke the Easter Sunday trading ban, but many of their New Zealand counterparts defied a similar restriction.

Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning are days when almost all NZ shops are required by law to close under the Shop Trading Hours Repeal Act 1990.

In England and Wales, the Sunday Trading Act 1994 bans shops over 280sqm from opening on Easter Sunday. Christmas Day trading is also banned.

Last year, the NZ Government found 22 out of 54 retailers visited trading on Good Friday and 17/54 on Easter Sunday. Those found guilty face a fine of up to $1,000. England and Wales fines are up to £50,000.

Oderings New Zealand director Darryn Odering said his 11 stores would remain open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday for their annual sale.

"We've been doing this since 1970 and don't feel we have to change now," he said.

Palmers Gardenworld owner Darryl Pierce said his store had only closed once during Easter Sunday in the past 20 years and would be open again this year.

In the past 20 years, NZ Parliament has attempted to change New Zealand's Easter trading regulations 14 times.

 

England and Wales law

The Sunday Trading Act 1994 states that shops over 280 square metres in England and Wales are restricted to any six hours of continuous trading between 10am and 6pm on Sundays. And they cannot open at all on Easter Sunday, which garden centre experts have estimated costs the industry £100m a year.

 

Keep Sunday Special

Keep Sunday Special representative Michael Trend said: "We’re opposed to any extension in Sunday trading including the Olympic extension going to Parliament this month. Opening on Sunday infringes on people’s rights not to work.

"Everyone in history has had these days until the madness of the 24/7 world took over.

"At a time when we’re thinking about the Big Society we should think about family and people’s lives and not just about big business.

"Their argument to open is even weaker in recession. People are paying off debt and their spending is even thinner if big shops are allowed to open on Easter Sunday. We have to think about people who work and not just about those who want to make a profit."


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