Easter Trading is the clusterwhatsit I told them it would be

It was widely predicted a dog’s breakfast would emerge, a confused and inconsistent retail landscape.

Sure enough, that’s precisely what lies ahead as the welcome respite of Easter beckons. Last August’s Easter Trading legislative reforms handed a hospital pass to our 67 local councils, whereby the government duck-shoved this “too hard” issue into the disparate, disjointed hands of our territorial authorities.

Since August, every council district has had the power to determine whether retailers operating within their territorial boundaries can open on Easter Sunday.

Do you know your Council’s stance? ? But wait, if you travel for Easter, that’s pretty pointless knowledge. ?You need to figure out what the place you’re visiting has decided.

So while the big metro councils sit on their respective chuffs, it is the provinces that have led the charge, with 17 district councils, at last count, allowing retailers to open their doors this Easter Sunday.

Greater Canterbury has been the most sluggish of all regions, with the Waimakariri, Hurunui, Kaikoura, Mackenzie, Waimate, Timaru and Waitaki district councils yet to establish local policy postures. Ashburton has decided not to permit local trading, claiming there is no community support for it. Meanwhile, Tasman and Nelson have both ruled out liberalising trading hours, while the neighbouring Marlborough District Council has enthusiastically embraced it.

So come Easter Sunday, the Warehouse can open in Blenheim, but not in Nelson.

Nelson is quite a tourism-reliant town. ?It’s rather remarkable that they’ve decided to keep the shops shut two days out of four. ? In the end, if you were going to spend your flight and accommodation dollars, would you go to Nelson only to discover it shut up shop?

As it is, the legislation was already a hot mess of tourist town exemptions, trading anomalies and straight-out oddities. For example, a hair salon can open to provide haircuts, but they cannot sell you hair product. Similarly, a movie and gaming store can open its doors, but only for rentals. They’re not allowed to sell hard copies.

Services can be provided, but goods can’t be sold. So a real estate or bank branch can open, but not the butcher, baker or candlestick-maker. A brothel can legally operate on Easter Sunday, yet an adult sex shop can’t. And on it goes.

The last legislative mess to mangle the law was inflicted in 1990, which is when garden centres lost the right to trade on Good Friday. Twenty-seven years on, the government’s devolution of this issue to territorial councils doesn’t address that grievance, with the local trading powers only applying to Easter Sunday, not Good Friday.

For a government to keen to tidy up messes like the RMA, this was a remarkable step in the wrong direction.


Mike Yardley, Stuff