A new £56 million “Welcome Back” fund will help England’s high streets and coastal towns safely reopen as coronavirus restrictions are eased ahead of the summer, the government has announced.
The funding will allow councils to boost the “look and feel” of local areas through improved green spaces, more outdoor seating areas as well as markets and pop-up food stalls.
Among a package of measures unveiled by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, pubs will also be permitted to erect marquees in gardens for the whole summer.
Caps on private parking fines will also be introduced to clamp down on “cowboy parking firms” and give drivers confidence when visiting towns.
Part of the funding pot will be specifically allocated for coastal areas, with all English seaside resorts to receive support. It's part of the government’s plans to help holidaymakers this year.
The funding boost for England’s seaside resorts comes as scientists warned that the prospect of foreign holidays was unlikely this summer due to the risks posed by Covid variants in other countries.
Robert Jenrick talks about the new government fund
Meanwhile, Labour said the fund was “a drop in the ocean” and it was “not clear which areas will benefit”.
Under its road map out of England’s coronavirus restrictions, and subject to the ongoing assessment of coronavirus data, the government aims to lift its “stay at home” order from March 29, with further gradual easing to follow.
Outdoor attractions, non-essential retail and some holiday lets could re-open after April 12 and most social contact restrictions could be lifted from June 21.
Mr Jenrick said: “As we move to the next stage on the roadmap out of lockdown, we are all looking forward to being reunited with friends and family outdoors and making a safe and happy return to our favourite shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.
“Our Welcome Back Fund gives every city, town and high street support to prepare for a great summer. This funding will help councils and businesses to welcome shoppers, diners and tourists back safely."
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) said the Welcome Back Fund could be used by councils to invest in street planting, green spaces, seating areas, to run publicity campaigns or to hold events such as markets and festivals.
Money could also be spent on signage to encourage social distancing and to tackle graffiti.
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Alongside this, pubs and restaurants, including premises in listed buildings, will be given the flexibility to set up marquees and provide more outdoor space for customers for the whole summer rather than the current 28 days permitted.
Some 70 councils will also receive “targeted, hands-on support” from the government’s High Streets Task Force. The unit has been described as “an elite team of high street experts who will advise [councils] on how to adapt to meet changing consumer demands so they can thrive in the years ahead”.
Under the government’s response to the Parking Code Framework consultation, it will “curb unfair tickets and tackle cowboy parking firms” through a simplified appeals process, as well as caps on private parking fines being introduced.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: “This is just a drop in the ocean compared to how much the Conservatives took away over a decade when they pushed our high streets and seaside towns into deep decline, and it’s not clear which areas will benefit.
“The Conservatives have done nothing to level the playing field between high street shops and online retailers. Now they want to hollow high streets out by selling off temporarily closed shops to wealthy developers so they can never reopen as shops again.”