A PILOT scheme to open Oxford’s Covered Market on Sundays is due to start next month.

Mary Clarkson, the city councillor with responsibility for the historic market, said Sunday trading could become permanent if a three-month pilot scheme proved a success.

City council leaders have been discussing the Sunday trading option with traders for several months. Some shopkeepers believe it will give them a crucial boost during the recession.

Traders have also been calling for the council to do more to highlight the 18th century market after the Labour administration last year withdrew £50,000 for much-needed refurbishment work.

The money was promised to traders after some suffered inflation-busting rent increases last year, although the council has invested in new lighting inside the market.

Mrs Clarkson said: “I think Sunday trading is a very good idea. If the scheme is well received, we can then put a system in place for a seamless transition from pilot scheme to permanent.

“The money to pay for opening the market on Sunday for three months — which will cover the cost of staff and cleaning costs — can be taken from the City Works budget.

“Some traders believe Sunday trading is essential and we need to ensure that if the pilot is a success we can continue with it.”

Richard Alden, the chairman of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, said the scheme would not be so popular with fresh-food traders, but others felt their livelihoods depended on it.

Sandie Griffith, secretary of the association, who runs Jemini flower shop, said: “Sunday is the second busiest trading day of the week, so I think this is a brilliant idea.

“Local people and tourists will love it. I suggested this years ago.

“I probably missed out on a couple of thousands of pounds on Mother’s Day because I was not able to open.”

Craig Muir, owner of Mortons café, said: “Sunday opening could be a success. If you don’t try it you won’t know.”

Liberal Democrat city councillor Jim Campbell said Sunday trading all year round would cost the council an estimated £30,000 and added: “The Labour group should certainly fund Sunday opening for the market from April to September.

“If half the stalls in the market open on Sunday, I think there will be enough activity to persuade other traders to do the same.

“Some traders believe Sunday trading will make the difference between them remaining viable and going to the wall.”

The market has previously opened on Sunday during Christmas, but this would be the first time it opened on a weekly basis.