Proposals to make it easier and cheaper for thousands of independent retailers in Northern Ireland to sell alcohol have been welcomed by the Northern Irish Independent Retail Trade Association (Niirta).

The proposed changes to the licensing regime, lodged by social development minister David Hanson, will be phased in by 2009 subject to further consultation. They include measures to scrap the way retailers secure licences.

Retailers currently obtain licences by surrendering unwanted ones bought from businesses moving out of the market for £140,000.

Bryan Gray, chief executive of Niirta, welcomed the move. "The big issue was always the issue of surrender."