Sliema's perennial parking problems could become even worse as a result of a spate of bar and restaurant applications to set up tables and chairs on public parking spaces.

Pending applications alone would see 25 parking spaces disappear from the town, many along residential streets, local councillor Paul Radmilli told the Times of Malta.

The volume of applications is in part due to regulations introduced last June which streamlined the process for outdoor catering areas by creating a one-stop shop in place of individual clearance from a number of different entities.

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis said at the time the new policy would create a balance “between the interests of the private sector and the rights of the public to access public areas.”

Mr Radmilli, however, said that the Planning Authority was now granting such permits on a case-by-case basis without regard to the cumulative impact of the lost parking spaces.

During a recent hearing, the local council called for applications to be suspended until a more holistic approach could be determined, but the request was turned down.

Public land is being dished out carelessly, with the result that our urban centres will be a complete jam when the destruction is complete

“We have to look into the total number of parking spaces that can sustainably be removed,” Mr Radmilli told Times of Malta.

“We're not talking about a pedestrian zone or a square but a place where people actually live. Parking spaces are being lost and no alternative is being provided.”

The councillor noted that the new development applications evaluated by the PA last October alone would result in a shortfall of 184 parking spaces, highlighting the need for existing parking spaces not to be removed.

“Public land is being dished out carelessly, with the result that our urban centres will be a complete jam when the destruction is complete,” he said.

“There is no concern that public land used for parking is to be taken away from both residents and visitors.” The situation is further compounded by the persistent problem of abuse by catering establishments setting up tables and chairs beyond their allotted area.

Figures provided by the Malta Tourism Authority show that some 32 fines were issued across Malta during 2016 to restaurants and cafes with illegal seating areas, up from just one the previous year.

“The reality is that there are nearly that many abusers in the Sliema and St Julian’s area alone, never mind the whole island. This problem is widespread,” Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop said last month, echoing the complaints of mayors in other tourist areas.

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