Weak enforcer given absolute discretion on road billboards at non-scheduled sites
The Malta Transport Authority, which has shown itself to be highly inept at ensuring observation of the rules on reserved parking bays for residents, has been given absolute discretion on requests for the erection of road billboards at non-scheduled sites.
New regulations, Erecting of Billboards on the Road Regulations, 2004, were published in a legal notice in Tuesday's Government Gazette. They came into force last Friday.
According to Article 5 (2) "The Authority shall retain absolute discretion whether to accede to any request made in terms of sub-regulation (1) of this regulation".
Sub-regulation 5 (1) says: "Any person who wishes to erect a permanent billboard on any road other than on a scheduled site, may submit an expression of interest to the Authority asking it to consider the designation of such site as a scheduled site".
Road billboards could potentially have a disastrous impact on the environment and giving the authority "absolute discretion" may yet be rued by the Minister for Urban Development and Roads, who drew up the regulations after consulting the authority.
Especially if the rules are bent as they are with regards to residents' reserved parking bays, a matter where the authority has shown itself to be strangely powerless to enforce the rules, though parking in residential streets is highly contentious in many areas, where parking room is very limited.
One of the chapters in the billboards regulations relates to political billboards. The first rule in that section says: "No person shall place or cause to be placed any political billboard on any road without a permit from the authority."
It has yet to be seen how strong the authority will be against the political parties and their, often, over-zealous activists. The augury is not good.
Billboards may be put up after an allocation agreement has been concluded with the authority. Regulation 7 (2) says: "Throughout the term of the allocation agreement, the operator shall maintain the billboard in an excellent state of repair and shall be fully and exclusively responsible for the structural and electrical safety of the billboard."
The authority is bound to give, within five working days, reasons in writing to an applicant whose application for a billboard is turned down by the authority.
An applicant whose application is dismissed by the authority has the right to appeal to an appeals board. No such right is granted against the authority to the public, who may find a billboard objectionable, in content for instance. Or because of its location. That may be perhaps because on the authority's record of enforcement so far, a flood of objections was feared.
According to regulation 4 (1) "no person shall erect or cause to be erected any permanent billboard on any road other than on a scheduled site listed in the First Schedule to the regulations".
The scheduled sites are in Birzebbuga, Zejtun, Marsaskala, Luqa, Paola, Marsa, Qormi, Sta Venera, Attard, Msida, Birkirkara, Iklin, Gharghur, San Gwann, Mosta, St Paul's Bay, Mellieha, Naxxar, Swieqi, Pembroke, St Julians, Victoria, Xewkija and Zebbug.
A second schedule gives guidelines. The first is that billboards should not be placed within 50 metres of any approach to major roads, junctions or pedestrian crossings, so as not to pose any hazards.
Another says that billboards or any of their attachments or supports are not to cause glare. The size of any billboard is not to exceed 3,000mm by 6,000mm, placed transversely, and there has to be a clear distance of 75 metres between billboards "unless otherwise stated".
The size of the lettering of billboards and signs is to be such that it is easily legible and it must be very concise.