All local authorities could be given the power to set Sunday trading hours under plans put out for consultation by the government today.
Ministers are seeking views on whether the powers should be handed to all councils with planning and licensing powers or to elected mayors as part of bespoke devolution deals.
Local leaders would then be able to decide which specific areas, such as particular high streets, they would allow extended trading hours on Sundays, except Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.
The Sunday Trading Act 1994 limits opening hours for large stores to six hours on Sundays. Smaller stores can open all day.
The government’s consultation document, said: “Local decision-makers are accountable to their local communities and understand the wishes of their local citizens and the needs of local businesses.
“Devolving this power to local areas means that they can ensure that the rules reflect local preferences, shopping habits and economic conditions.”
Based on figures from 2006, the government has estimated extending Sunday trading rules would add £1.4bn a year to the economy.
Local Government Association chair Gary Porter (Con) said: “It is right that councils, in consultation with their residents and local businesses, should be given the flexibility to decide how to drive growth and best attract business to their local high street, this includes the relaxation of Sunday trading laws.
“However, it’s vital that any changes are a ‘can do’ choice rather than a ‘must do’ duty imposed by central government.”
However, some local government figures have expressed opposition to the plans.
Writing for LGC last month Simon Blackburn (Lab), leader of Blackpool BC, expressed his concerns about being given powers over Sunday trading hours.
He said it would amount to the “devolution of lobby group pressure”.
“I can hear the advice now: ‘But Preston/Camden/Leeds has done it, Cllr Blackburn. If we don’t follow suit, we’ll get left behind.’
“You soon end up, as we have in licensing and planning, with an army of lawyers, armed with woolly legislation, a presumption in favour of permission being granted, and a few well-publicised appeals, and soon everything, everywhere, will have to be open 24/7.”
The consultation, launched by Department for Communities & Local Government, and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, closes on 16 September 2015.