THE Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, has welcomed an announcement by the Ministers for Communities and Rural Affairs of an £11m investment in town and city centres across Northern Ireland.
The Department for Communities (DfC) is investing £10m in the 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.
The £11m funding will be allocated to local councils in two tranches to deliver measures that will help provide a safe environment for visitors, shoppers and workers within town and city centres.
This may include measures such as shop frontage and awnings/canopies; outdoor furniture; heaters queueing systems; PA/tannoy systems and digital screens, and other signage.
Councillor Johnston said: “Our town centres are at the very heart of our local communities and this investment by the DfC and DAERA is well-deserved recognition of the critical role they play in driving our local economy.
“The Covid-19 lockdown period served to remind us just how greatly our town centres in Mid and East Antrim are valued and how much every shop, business and hospitality establishment located within them – no matter how large or small – contributes to our local lifestyle and visitor offering.
“In recent weeks I have witnessed first-hand the endless hours of hard work that these businesses have invested – an indeed will continue to invest – in ensuring their premises are safe and comply fully with government guidelines around operating in our new normal.
“The various enhancements that this new investment will enable will bring a timely and welcome boost to our town centres as they embark upon their post-Covid-19 recovery.”
An initial £6m for immediate interventions has been allocated to the 11 councils who will administer the funding in their area.
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.
The announcement comes as Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) rolls out its innovative #RediscoverMEA campaign, a key strand of which is aimed at encouraging citizens to support town centre businesses by shopping and dining local.
Led by MEABC’s specialist Town Centre Recovery Group, the campaign showcases the unique selling points of the Borough’s three main towns – Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus – underpinned by a bespoke narrative and compelling imagery for each location.
The Mayor continued: “Through this campaign, we are encouraging local citizens and visitors travelling to Mid and East Antrim this summer to enjoy the amazing hospitality and warm welcome for which our Borough is so renowned.
“With all appropriate measures in place, there has never been a better time to #RediscoverMEA and all our Borough has to offer in terms of shopping and dining out.”
The Town Centre Recovery Group is working up a submission to the Department for Communities with the final funding total for Mid and East Antrim expected to be confirmed soon.
The group, chaired by Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, has been working in recent months on a pathway towards economic recovery, shaped by the traders and retailers within the group.