Communities & Local Government is providing eight grants of £65,000 to cover a proportion of the panels' running costs until March next year.
It is the first grant programme for the regional network and follows last year's withdrawal of almost all government funding for the body's design review service.
The local panels will be expected to engage in the localism agenda through enlisting planning and urban design experts to review neighbourhood plans and involving the community in local design reviews.
Details of a further grants scheme for smaller local panels, of which there are around 70 nationwide, will be announced in the summer.
Senior adviser at Design Council CABE Menaka Sahai said details had not been finalised but it was likely that four-figure grants would be provided to local panels to enhance their expertise.
She added: "CABE has always had good community involvement and we want the local panels to become more aware of what the community needs. Our remit involves landscape - sometimes tacitly and sometimes directly - so this funding will cover those aspects as well."
Landscape Institute chief executive Alastair McCapra welcomed the announcement. "This money will ensure that the panels are in the best possible shape to meet the challenges that go with localism," he said.
The institute was helping to develop a design support infrastructure for local communities with a reliable, long-term funding base, he added.