When will the Lands’ Authority act? – Carmel Cacopardo

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

Carmel Cacopardo
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 7 April 2019