The HTA says garden centres should be allowed to open for more than six hours on a Sunday, and therefore welcomed this proposal that would take steps towards achieving this. Sundays typically make 20-25 per cent of weekly sales.
The HTA estimates that Sunday trading restrictions in England and Wales currently cost the industry an estimated £75 million per annum in lost sales.
In its response to the consultation, which closed on 16 September, the HTA argued that it is "vital that every community is given the freedom to choose whether to relax Sunday trading rules, saying that in most cases a local debate on the issue is long overdue".
It also set out the positive impact that any eventual relaxation of Sunday trading rules at the local level would have on its membership – the garden centres, growers, manufacturers and suppliers which account for more than 29,000 businesses and employ more than 280,000 workers.
Allowing garden centres to trade for longer on a Sunday would allow members to make "significant productivity gains and increase sales, boosting the competitiveness of an important sector which contributes £9 billion to the UK economy", said the HTA.
It would particularly benefit the HTA's Small and Medium Enterprise members – around 95 per cent of its membership - which will be able to compete on more of a level playing field against online retailers able to trade 24/7.
HTA chief executive Carol Paris said: "Whilst we believe there is a strong case to be made for relaxing Sunday trading rules across the board, we believe that – in the case of garden centres – the argument is beyond doubt.
"We feel that our member businesses, most of which are SMEs, are unfairly hampered by trading restrictions which customers don't understand anyway in this modern age of 24/7 online retail and Sunday is rapidly becoming the favourite shopping day.
"We urge the Government not to miss this golden opportunity to relax Sunday trading to the significant benefit of garden centres, their customers, staff and suppliers."