Brexit issue overtaking Easter Sunday debate

HTA confirms no significant campaign plans this year because of Brexit impact.

Garden centres: legislation preventing Easter Sunday opening is estimated to cost the industry £70m in lost sales - image: HW
Garden centres: legislation preventing Easter Sunday opening is estimated to cost the industry £70m in lost sales - image: HW

A focus on Brexit's impact on the garden industry has overtaken campaigning for Easter Sunday opening this year.

A weekend of confusion for customers and missed sales for garden centres looms as shops larger than 280sq m (3,000sq ft) are permitted to open on Sundays but only for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm but must close on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day under the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

The debate over Sunday trading laws was reignited in 2014, when a ComRes poll revealed that 72% of people believe they should be able to shop whenever is convenient for them. The Amendments to the Deregulation Bill aimed to abolish or liberalise the current Sunday trading laws but was rejected by Parliament.

The July 2015 Budget proposed relaxing the Sunday trading laws and allowing shops larger than 280sq m to remain open for longer, but the proposal was defeated in a House of Commons vote after SNP MPs voted against. Opening on Easter Sunday, which is favourably late this year, could be worth £70m to the industry.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin says: "We have no significant campaign plans this year because of Brexit. The HTA membership still supports our campaign to exempt garden centres from Sunday trading laws, or to relax Sunday altogether, but for the immediate future this campaign has been overshadowed by the Brexit process. We are currently finalising our strategy aims to get the best for the garden industry once we leave the EU. We see some great opportunities ahead for UK production and horticulture as a whole."

Dobbies chief executive Nicholas Marshall runs a 34-centre business split between Scotland, where he can open on Easter Sunday, and England, where he cannot. In the past he has stood up to the law. He says he is frustrated by the issue.

"Sex shops can open on Easter Sunday but garden centres can't and that's still the case," he adds. "It's a silly anomaly where the church and unions ganged up but no one thought about the customer who would like to go to the garden centre on a Sunday. If you asked people to vote they would be 99% in favour."

Exemptions

Shops selling their own produce are among the exemptions. Others are for tourist areas. Belfast City Council has launched a public consultation into extended Sunday opening hours for large shops in the city. At present, larger shops are only allowed to open for a maximum of five hours between 1pm and 6pm in general, while smaller shops can open all day.

Should permission be granted, larger shops could extend opening hours on 18 Sundays in a calendar year between 1 March and 30 September, except for Easter Sunday. This would see Belfast designated as a "holiday resort".

On the shop floor, retailers are stepping up their Easter offers with more gift items for sale. Waitrose reports that demand for Easter crackers is up 63% on last year and chocolate egg sales are still buoyant, up 12% between 2015 and 2016.

Toy manufacturers are appealing to health-conscious parents by selling Easter-themed non-confectionery gifts, such as collectible electronic chicks that hatch out of plastic eggs.


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