Town and city centres in Northern Ireland are to receive an £11m (€12m) boost for their recovery from Covid-19.
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.
Stormont Communities Minister Caral Ní Chuilín 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 £10m (€10.9m) in the Capital Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Scheme which will be used in larger town and city centres, with a further £1m (€1.09m) 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 £6m (€6.5m) for immediate action has been allocated to the 11 councils which will administer the funding in their area.
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 industryAodhan Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium
The remaining £5m (€5.4m) 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.
Aodhán 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.”