Hopes £11m funding package can help with Covid recovery

Hopes £11m funding package can help with Covid recovery

29 July 2020

A LOCAL politician is hoping that towns and villages across the district will secure a slice of an £11m funding cake to assist with their recovery from coronavirus lockdown measures.

Details of the new Northern Ireland Executive funding package were unveiled on Monday with Downpatrick area councillor Dermot Curran is keen for the cash to be invested across the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area.

The Department for Communities is investing £10m in a capital Covid-19 recovery revitalisation scheme which will be used in larger town and city centres, with a further £1m coming from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to be used for smaller settlements.

An initial £6m for immediate interventions has been allocated to Newry, Mourne and Down Council and the province’s 10m other local authorities who will administer the funding in their respective areas.  

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

The funding will be allocated to district councils in two tranches to deliver measures that will help provide a safe environment for visitors, shoppers and workers. 

The measures may include improving or new shop fronts, awnings or canopies, outdoor furniture, heated queueing systems, public address or tannoy systems, digital screens and other signage.

Communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín said the Executive is committed to supporting town and city centres as they emerge from the pandemic. 

“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,” she said.

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

The minister added: “I am delighted that this much-needed support is now available to provide a safer experience for anyone visiting, shopping or working in town and city centres.”

DAERA minister Edwin Poots said that as lockdown restrictions are being eased and non-essential shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are reopening, it is vital to restore visitor and worker confidence in town centres and villages as being safe places to work, visit and shop.

He added: “I’m confident that this revitalisation scheme will help achieve this and encourage councils to work closely with the Department for Communities to deliver this assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Cllr Curran said that the overwhelming majority of local businesses have been hit hard by coronavirus and have embarked upon what will be a “slow road to recovery”.

He said any additional financial support that comes their way will be greatly appreciated in the current challenging climate. He said businesses across the district have taken steps to ensure the safety of staff and customers and are to be commended for their efforts.

“Businesses are at the heart of the district’s economy. Not only do they provide a range of goods and services, they also provide employment. The fact that many people are now back at work or are in the process of doing so is encouraging news.

“I have no doubt that our local council officials will be keen to secure funding from this welcome new initiative to help the business sector in our towns and villages as much as possible. Clearly there will be a huge demand for funding and I hope that we in this part of the world get our fair share.”

Cllr Curran said he hopes that council officials will take time at next Monday night’s monthly virtual council meeting to spell out how their plans for securing some of the new funding.

He added: “Recovering from Covid-19 will take time and all help which businesses can avail of is welcome. News of this new funding initiative will no doubt be welcomed by local business organisations and village committees who are keen to see the economic recovery of their respective areas.”