Retail NI, the Northern Ireland trade body for independents, is lobbying Belfast City Council (BCC) not to relax Sunday trading laws which it says could destroy small stores.

The council will finish its consultation on Friday [5 May] on designating Belfast a “resort” which would allow large supermarkets of more than 3,014 sq ft (280 sq m) to open all day for 18 Sunday a year between 1 March and 30 September, excluding Easter Sunday.

Large shops can only open currently from 1pm until 6pm on Sunday whereas smaller shops can open all day, but the “resort” option can be invoked under existing legislation – Article 6 of the Shops (Sunday Trading) (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 – as it has been in Derry-Londonderry, Newry, Kilkeel, Portrush, Portstewart and Ballycastle.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said the proposals would “essentially deregulate” Sunday trading which would have “a critical impact” on small independent local stores that traded on Sunday mornings.

Large multinational supermarkets already had an unfair competitive advantage over independent retailers with free car parking in out-of- centre locations.

“The few hours trading our members have on Sundays before the multinationals open at 1pm are absolutely vital to the survival of their businesses,” Roberts said.

Becoming a “holiday resort” and extending trading hours would not support the Belfast Tourism Strategy, but would allow large businesses to trade for longer hours at the expense of small shops and local high streets.

“We urge BCC to drop its proposal to allow extended Sunday trading hours across the entire Belfast Council area,” Roberts said.