10 – 18 January 2001

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Developments expected in Bay Street Sunday shopping controversy

By Miriam Dunn

The Home Affairs minister Tonio Borg has told the Association of General Retailers and Traders that there will be developments over the Bay Street shops’ Sunday opening controversy, but it has not yet been revealed what course of action will be taken.
The issue of whether the shops in Bay Street should be allowed to open on Sundays on the grounds that they form part of a hotel complex has incensed the GRTU, which is claiming that the police are failing to uphold the trading laws.
Sunday trading in itself has been a thorny issue for some time, and is expected to be redefined this year.
But the Bay Street issue is slightly more complex in that it relates to whether the shops form part of a hotel precinct, which would then permit them to open on Sundays.
The GRTU Director General Vince Farrugia told The Business Times that the fundamental question which needs answering is how a hotel precinct should be defined.
Until now, shops permitted to open on Sundays have been situated inside the hotel premises, whereas Bay Street is a large complex which includes shops, other facilities and a hotel.
"The GRTU always agreed with the way that the law was enforced until the Bay Street controversy erupted, which saw shops in a hotel foyer without a separate entrance or exit permitted to open on Sundays," he said. "In these cases, the only way to access the shops is through the main door of the hotel."
Mr Farrugia claimed that the decision by the authorities to permit the shops at Bay Street to open has meant that more than misinterpreting the law, they are rewriting it.
"The law doesn’t authorise shops with independent entries to open," he said. "In this case, the main clients are the general public, not hotel guests."
Mr Farrugia said the GRTU has spoken to Home Affairs minister Tonio Borg on the issue and has been informed that "there will be developments", although he did not want to comment further.
He stressed that although the Bay Street issue was linked to the controversial matter of Sunday trading in general, it was, simultaneously, a separate subject.
"It is true that many of our members, for one reason or another, do not want to open on Sundays," he said. "But the Bay Street issue must be addressed on its own since we clearly have a case here where the current laws are not being adhered to."
In the meantime, the Bay Street complex continues to stick to its guns and maintains that the shops should be allowed to open on Sundays.
Deborah Webster told The Business Times that the project had always been marketed as a hotel complex and that it had been opened under this premise, so therefore Sunday trading there was covered by law.
"We are convinced that our outlets are permitted to open in line with the current regulations, but we also believe that shops should be able to open on Sundays with no restrictions anyway," Ms Webster said.
Asked to comment on the GRTU’s argument that until now, shops permitted to open on a Sunday had to be inside a hotel precinct without independent access, the spokeswoman stressed that the Bay Street complex had a completely different design to other projects.
"In the creation of Bay Street, we looked closely at trends overseas where the main criteria included maximising space," she said. "In line with this, and the fact that Bay Street is avant-garde, it is very difficult to compare the centre to the set-up of other projects."

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt