Osborne raises hopes over Sunday trading

Chancellor's plan to devolve Sunday trading decisions could bring £75m to sector and would cap a 'cracking' season.

Scotsdales: centre is up 10 per cent year to date and had a good June (credit HW)
Scotsdales: centre is up 10 per cent year to date and had a good June (credit HW)

The Garden Centre Association (GCA) and HTA have welcomed a move by the Government to extend Sunday trading that could bring £75m to the garden centre sector and would cap a "cracking" season.

Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne was due to present the plan to devolve decisions on opening times to local authorities and mayors in the Budget this week. His plans are expected to be taken forward in the Government's new Enterprise Bill in the autumn.

The Ornamentals Round Table cross-industry report, which was launched in May, featured extending Sunday trading as a central "ask" of Government. HTA chief executive Carol Paris said Sunday trading is horticulture's "biggest issue".

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis Machin said: "It seems a positive move by Government. Lobbying has been listened to."

He pointed out that many councils have their own interpretation of the law, which restricts Sunday trading to six hours in England and Wales and precludes any sales on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday under the 1994 Sunday Trading Act.

The round table lobbying shows it is not just the HTA that wants the change but the whole industry, including the RHS and NFU, said Curtis Machin. He noted that prime minster David Cameron and Osborne both took advantage of photo opportunities in garden centres in the run-up to May's general election, with Osborne's on Easter Sunday itself.

He added that the move topped a "cracking year" for garden centres and growers. GCA chief executive Iain Wylie said: "Finally there's a crack of light in the Sunday trading debate.

"But it seems the power is with individual councils and elected mayors so we could end up in a situation with different rules around different parts of the country, which is not necessarily a good thing."

He said Easter Sunday is the most important date on which members would want to open. Wylie added that 2015 has been a "happy season" with members about 10 per cent up on average.

Scotsdales Garden Centre consultant John Ashley said: "Sunday restrictions have been holding back businesses. Slowly but surely the argument has been broken down so we look on this as a positive step. It's just modern retailing. It's an anomaly that has gone on and on."

He added that year to date Scotsdales is 10 per cent up and it had a good June, with watering, furniture and barbecues and instant colour kicking off later in June.

In Scotland there are no trading restrictions and internet shopping has led to the anomaly of online sales being allowed at the same time as physical stores in England and Wales cannot trade.

Osborne said: "Even two decades on from the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act it is clear that there is still a growing appetite for shopping on a Sunday.

"There is some evidence that transactions for Sunday shopping are actually growing faster than those for Saturday. The rise of online shopping, which people can do round the clock, also means more retailers want to compete by opening for longer at the weekend."

He added: "But this will not be right for every area, so I want to devolve the power to make this decision to mayors and local authorities. This will be another part of my plan to ensure a truly national recovery, with our great towns and cities able to determine their own futures."

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said there was a feel-good factor in gardening this summer: "June was great for me again - believe it or not another best-ever month in 44 years of trading. I go back to 2011, which was a good year and in fact our best ever, and I have a chance of surpassing that. Trade is still going great on plants in July."

He said May was 35 per cent up on 2014 and June was up 22 per cent.

Bunker added that with Andy Murray progressing at Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and England's women coming third in the football World Cup: "It may be that the feel-good factor has possibly been overlooked."

Key Stat

HTA figures show the rest of the UK lost £12m because centres cannot open on Easter Sunday and £75m across the year

£75m missed revenue.

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