A SOUTHEND councillor has called for a slice of £56 million Government funding to help the town's coastal pubs and restaurants launch al fresco dining.

The new '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 and 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.

Part of the funding pot will be specifically allocated for coastal areas, with all English seaside resorts to receive support, under 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.

Southend Council's Conservative leader, Tony Cox, said a slice of the cash could be used to help make use of "barren and empty" areas of the town's high street and seafront.

“There are whole vast swathes of barren areas in the High Street which could be used for this," he said.

“Why can’t there be al fresco dining, seating areas, benches maybe even marquees?

“This is nothing new – we said this right at the end of the very first lockdown, now the funding is here and available, we should be committing to helping businesses.

“It could become a nice feature throughout the summer months.

“The leisure, tourism and hospitality industry has been hit particularly badly by Covid."

Kevin Robinson, the council's cabinet member responsible for business, culture and tourism, said the funding would be spread thinly amongst the country's coastal areas.

He said: "If you think of the number of coastal areas the funding is targeted at, it won't be a particularly huge amount for each area.

"My job as portfolio holder means any funding we do get, either allocated or through bidding, is invested to the best of our abilities to help get businesses up and running again.

"The seafront and high street have already got a reasonably good level of space for eating outside but of course we will look forward to helping businesses."

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.