Sunday trading laws should be ditched during major floods, a think tank backed by Michael Gove has recommended.
Research by Bright Blue found that there have been more than 50 flash flood events in major urban areas since 2007, including 10 in London and at least seven in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
In previous severe floods, people have been unable to buy essential groceries and cleaning supplies because of restricted Sunday opening hours, the Bright Blue report found.
In a 2015 incident in Lancaster, the city had just one supermarket open, with all the others closed because of a power cut caused by the floods. But the store could not open for longer because of Sunday trading laws.
In England and Wales, large shops over 280 square metres can only open on Sundays for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm.
“In future similar situations, relaxation of Sunday trading laws during serious flood emergencies could help ensure food, cleaning supplies and replacement personal items are available to those who need them,” the report said.
Previous attempts to relax Sunday trading laws, including during the Covid pandemic, have met opposition from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The report said that meant any relaxation would need to be “tightly defined and very clearly temporary”, for example only applying while a major incident has been declared.
Helen Jackson, an associate fellow at Bright Blue and the report author, said: “The disruption caused by Storm Arwen highlights the need to make our infrastructure resilient to extreme weather and be more preventative and less reactive.
“Many towns and cities in the UK are seeing repeat episodes of flash flooding affecting households, businesses, and transport systems. We need to recognise this trend and do much more to ensure our urban drainage and sewer systems can cope with heavy rainfall as the climate changes.
“This should include limiting the spread of impermeable surfaces in our cities and ensuring basic measures like drain cleaning are not overlooked.
“The recent furore over sewage spills highlighted the importance of adequate drainage and sewerage systems for environmental quality – but this is not just an environmental issue, it is a public safety issue.”