Shops will be allowed to open longer before Christmas in a bid to revive the high street following the second coronavirus lockdown, a government minister has said.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced in an article for the Daily Telegraph that he was relaxing planning restrictions to allow extended hours during the festive period.
He also urged councils to waive rules that currently restrict shops to staying open between 9am to 7pm on Monday to Saturday.
Mr Jenrick said: “With these changes local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
“How long will be a matter of choice for the shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council, but I suggest we offer these hard pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.
“Therefore as local government secretary I am relaxing planning restrictions and issuing an unambiguous request to councils to allow businesses to welcome us into their glowing stores late into the evening and beyond if wish.
“And those stores and supermarkets will be able to replenish their shelves whenever they wish, with flexible deliveries to keep the streets free for the rest of us when we are out and about."
He said the temporary relaxation of rules would apply "this Christmas and through January", adding: “In a year when government has necessarily interjected into our lives in ways none of us who value individual liberty would ever have imagined, these changes remind us that we can and must seek every way to reduce the burden of bureaucracy and free our small businesspeople to get on with earning a living and serving the public.”
It comes after a string of shop closures and job losses throughout the retail industry during the pandemic.
Earlier this month the clothing businesses Peacocks, Jaeger and Edinburgh Woollen Mill all went into administration, and on Friday it was reported the Arcadia retail group, which owns brands including Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, was on the brink of collapse.
The Centre for Retail Research, which describes the pandemic as "a hammer blow against the sector", has logged over 15,000 store closures and 140,000 job losses so far in 2020. It predicts those figures will rise to 20,620 store closures and 235,704 job losses by the end of the year.
Smaller businesses have been particularly affected - after the last lockdown, one in five independent retailers did not reopen.