A DEPARTMENT store in County Durham has been told it must close or face further action if it does not adhere to a prohibition notice issued by the council.

TJ Hughes in Durham City has been served with a prohibition notice from Durham County Council after failing to close as required under Covid regulations.

The store, which is in the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre, had initially remained open while the firm argued that it sold food, hardware and gardening supplies.

Last week, TJ Hughes in Middlesbrough was reportedly handed a £17,000 fine for failing to close during lockdown as it was deemed to be non-essential.

SEE MORE: TJ Hughes revealed as Middlesbrough department store fined £17,000 over lockdown breaches

At the time, Middlesbrough Council slammed businesses that were "trying" to get around restrictions by selling, or claiming to sell a small amount of food and medicines.

But confirming it had told the Durham store to close last week, Durham County Council said it had been made aware the store had remained trading over the weekend.

Joanne Waller, head of community protection at Durham County Council, said: “A prohibition notice was served on this store on Friday afternoon, as we did not consider that this type of premises was permitted to remain open under the legislation.

"We are aware the store has been trading over the weekend and have spoken with the management team to advise them of the process that will follow if the prohibition notice is not adhered to.

“Overall, we have seen very high compliance in County Durham, and we would like to thank the majority of businesses who are following the national regulations and helping to reduce the spread of the virus.”

The Northern Echo: TJ Hughes in Durham City Picture: JIM SCOTTTJ Hughes in Durham City Picture: JIM SCOTT

A prohibition notice can be issued by local authorities and police forces and stops what officials consider to be 'unsafe activity', to limit the spread of Covid-19.

But in response, TJ Hughes argued that it had the right to remain trading during the national lockdown as it sells food, is licenced to sell alcohol, and sells hardware and gardening supplies.

Jason Harmer, Chief Operating Officer of TJ Hughes, said it would be taking legal action against those local authorities issuing prohibition notices and fines.

He said “TJ Hughes takes public health extremely seriously we also always seek to act within the parameters of the law.

"We have voluntarily closed some of our stores on a site by site basis but TJ Hughes has a responsibility to its staff and others to continue trading safely.

"For the record, it is therefore the intention of TJ Hughes to legally challenge the local authorities’ positions in relation to their desire to force the closure of TJ Hughes stores.

"It is wholly nonsensical that TJ Hughes stores be asked to close when other similar mixed retail stores remain open nationwide”

Under the current Government guidance, which was published on November 5, only a business that is selling a "significant amount" of essential retail may remain trading.

This includes businesses selling a substantial amount of food and hardware, in order to comply with Covid rules.

Businesses selling clothes and homeware - such as furniture and carpets - are among those that are required to remain closed.

Mr Harmer went on to detail that all of its stores had implemented "significant measures" to ensure its customers and staff were kept safe from Covid.

He said: “TJ Hughes remains proud to serve its customers and local communities throughout this difficult time and to have ensured all Government Covid-19 guidance is in place to keep everyone safe.

"Indeed, TJ Hughes has implemented significant measures to ensure the health and safety of both employees and members of the public in their stores.

"These measures include the installation of Perspex screens, hand sanitisers, the use of social distancing controls, floor signage, window signage, and the implementation of strict Covid-19 cleaning routines, and training of staff”.