Retailers believe new Sunday trading rules could create a bureaucratic headache, after the prospect of ‘zoning’ was raised.
The Government’s proposed changes could hand elected mayors and local authorities, or a combination of both, the power to determine Sunday trading hours for shops over 3,000 sq ft.
But devolution could give local authorities the ability to introduce zoning, which would allow them to apply different regulations to distinct areas in their localities.
One industry source warned zoning could result in one part of a street being open and another shut, or high streets trading while retail parks nearby remained subject to shorter hours.
Iceland boss Malcolm Walker, who is in favour of relaxing Sunday trading laws, described the zonal plans as “nonsense” and called for a single approach to avoid a “bugger’s muddle”.
He said: “With one national solution you know where you are, otherwise it just gets complicated. As a shopper, you’d be going to another town and not knowing if the stores are open or closed”.
There is also concern about perceived confusion over which government department and minister is leading the overhaul of the law.
The six-week consultation is being run jointly by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The BRC has called for an impact assessment to be carried out to gauge whether businesses and communities would gain from the move.
Changes would boost the economy by £1.4bn a year, according to the Government, but that figure is based on research carried out in 2006 prior to the online shopping boom.
The Association of Convenience Stores, which opposes longer hours, challenged some of the statistics referenced in the 21-page consultation document, which included an ONS survey from 2005.
John Hannett, general secretary of shop workers union Usdaw, said the proposals would “create chaos” because of the potential for different regulatory regimes across the country.
But communities minister Brandon Lewis insisted many issues raised would be “fleshed out” during the consultation.
He maintained zoning would give “high streets the chance to compete, not just with online shopping, but with out-of-town stores”.
“What local authorities do with that power, whether they use zones or look at changing trading hours at certain times of the year will be up to them,” Lewis said.
Business group the New West End Company said an extra two hours of Sunday trading in London’s West End would boost business by £260m each year.
Harvey Nichols boss Stacey Cartwright argued changes to Sunday trading would allow Knightsbridge retailers “to offer the highest level of service and convenient trading hours.”