From tomorrow (Wednesday 2nd December), as England returns to a system of tiered restrictions, all non-essential retail will be able to reopen and planning rules limiting opening hours will be eased to allow shops to be open for longer.
While being a boost to business, these measures will help ease transport pressures and make socially distanced shopping easier by giving people greater flexibility to choose when they shop and avoid peak times.
Restrictions are normally imposed by individual local authorities when they grant planning permission for individual stores. Typically, such conditions limit the opening hours that a business may trade, for example, from 9am to 7pm, unless a separate arrangement is agreed in writing with the relevant local planning authority.
In normal circumstances, a retailer would need to apply to remove or vary such a condition under Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This can be a lengthy process, taking several weeks or more.
The measures announced this week make it clear to local planning authorities that they should take a positive approach when engaging with retailers who wish to extend their retail opening hours and look to relaxing local restrictions where possible.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has said:
“None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic. So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
“How long will be a choice for shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council. Councils should offer these hard pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season”.
The majority of shop owners have already made their premises COVID-secure. Allowing retailers to extend their opening hours from Monday through to Saturday will mean an even safer shopping experience in the run up to Christmas and through the January sales, when shops are usually much busier.
If Councils suspects shops are not upholding the high COVID-secure standards set by the government since the beginning of the pandemic, they have the power to take action in order to keep the public safe.