Town and city centres to receive £11 million as part of COVID-19 recovery scheme

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An initial £6m for immediate interventions has been allocated to the 11 councils who will administer the funding in their area.

By Michael McHugh PA and Q Radio News

Town and city centres in Northern Ireland are to receive an £11 million boost for their recovery from coronavirus.

The windfall will help provide a safe environment for visitors, shoppers and workers.

It may fund awnings, outdoor furniture, heaters, queuing and Tannoy systems and digital screens.

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "As restrictions have lifted, I appreciate that the current environment still presents very real challenges for businesses who are working hard to deliver for their staff, customers and community.

"Many have demonstrated their resilience and this funding I am announcing today will help reassure traders, shoppers and visitors that our town centres are open for business again in a safe way."

The Department for Communities is investing £10 million in the Capital Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Scheme which will be used in larger town and city centres, with a further £1 million coming from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to be used for smaller settlements.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said: "As lockdown restrictions are being eased and non-essential shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are opening for business, it is vital that we restore visitor and worker confidence in our town centres and villages as being safe places to work, visit and shop.

"I am confident this revitalisation scheme will help achieve this and I encourage councils to work closely with the Department for Communities to deliver this assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible."

An initial £6 million for immediate action has been allocated to the 11 councils which will administer the funding in their area.

The remaining £5 million from the Department for Communities will be used later in the year to address medium to longer-term measures such as environmental improvements, the adaptation of empty sites or vacant premises for pop-up spaces or provision of lighting schemes.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium which represents larger stores, said while shops can open, some are at greatly reduced capacity due to social distancing and footfall levels continued to be decimated.

"We need both the continued support of government but also the support of the public to come out and get behind Northern Ireland's retail industry.

"By doing so, they will support not only thousands of jobs in retail but many more in the service and agri-food industries to name but two."

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said it was a step in the right direction.

"We need to work together to ensure our high streets survive the threat they currently face and we would encourage the Executive to create a task force to allow us to pool our collective efforts towards rejuvenating our city and town centres."

Edwin Poots welcomes the announcement

The remaining £5m from the Department for Communities will issue later in the year, and will be used to address medium- to longer-term measures such as minor public realm or environmental improvements, the adaptation of gap sites or vacant premises for meanwhile use or pop-up spaces, or provision of lighting schemes.

Minister Poots added:  “As lockdown restrictions are being eased and non-essential shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are opening for business it is vital that we restore visitor and worker confidence in our town centres and villages as being safe places to work, visit and shop. I am confident this Revitalisation Scheme will help achieve this and I encourage Councils to work closely with DfC to deliver this assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

 

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