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Probe sees authorities passing the buck on pavement cafes

Extensions are a danger to pedestrians, motorists - Ombudsman

More and more outlets are taking up pavements and parking spaces. Photo: Google Maps

More and more outlets are taking up pavements and parking spaces. Photo: Google Maps

Illegal extensions by food and beverage outlets on The Strand in Sliema were sanctioned by “legally acceptable administrative and executive procedures”, encouraging other operators to do the same, the Ombudsman said.

The Planning Authority should not tolerate breach of permit conditions and if necessary remove illegal developments through direct action.

In those cases where similar developments in the same area have not yet been sanctioned, the PA should ensure that such developments are removed. The authority should not solely rely on the daily fine imposed on such illegalities as a means of enforcement, he wrote.

The case notes did not specify the date of the complaint, although it said that the extension was 'approved' in 2013. Since then, numerous stretches of the Strand have had their pavements and parking taken up by food and beverage outlets.

Read: Al fresco dining abuse is getting worse, commissioner says

“It is indeed a pity that an application that had been submitted and which could have resulted in a holistic solution for this stretch of road was left pending for such a long time and no action whatsoever was taken by Mepa to decide thereon or withdraw it – all this when there were applications for these same sites which had been submitted later."

The Ombudsman lambasted the Planning Authority as well as other responsible authorities about the lack of effective control on the developments which took place. There was no effort to maintain order and ensure that conditions tied to these permits were observed, especially in respect of extensions of concessions for chairs and tables outside establishments.

It is indeed a pity that an application that had been submitted and which could have resulted in a holistic solution for this stretch of road was left pending for such a long time and no action whatsoever was taken by Mepa to decide thereon or withdraw it

In the Ombudsman’s case notes published today, he recounted noted the fragmentation of the system, leading to problems.

The office looked into the matter after a neighbour complained about two parking spaces being taken away by the illegal extension, with five other outlets following suit and 15 parking spaces being taken up in a short period.

This issue involves a number of entities namely Mepa (now Planning Authority), Transport Malta, Malta Tourism Authority, the Government Property Department and the Sliema council.

Mepa had said that enforcement should be undertaken by the Transport Malta and the Lands Department. Transport Malta said its only involvement lay in providing consultation and corresponding no/objection from the safety aspect of a project.

The permit is issued from Mepa, Transport Malta concluded.

However, the Ombudsman found that the extension was constructed as approved by Transport Malta in February 2013, with no mention of a Mepa permit. When he queried this, Transport Malta replied that: “It is the responsibility of the developer to procure all necessary permits as required by law” – along with its ‘no objection’ letter.

The situation became even more opaque when Transport Malta added that since the project “did not increase the asphalt area, it would not have required a MEPA permit”.

The Malta Tourism Authority said the extension did not fall within its responsibilities and had no powers or mandate to monitor and take action in relation to such action, adding that it could not comment on the extension of the pavement, but only with respect to the “tables and chairs issue”.

The Ombudsman had more luck with the Government Property Department which submitted a file containing various documents relating to three of the mentioned establishments, including action taken by the department.

Such encroachment on public land is resulting in the loss of pavement space as a consequence of bottle-necking by almost half the width, making it very uncomfortable for pedestrians, especially at night

The Sliema council added that it had flagged the illegalities with Transport Malta, Mepa and the Lands Department. Some of the establishments had since applied with Mepa for sanctioning, which the council objected to.

“Such encroachment on public land is resulting in the loss of pavement space as a consequence of bottle-necking by almost half the width, making it very uncomfortable for pedestrians, especially at night when there is increased movement between inside and outside the establishment.

“It is anticipated that patrons of these establishments (as is the case with other catering outlets having similar arrangements nearby), particularly at night will ‘spill over’ onto the inner land of the Sliema-bound carriageway posing a very dangerous threat to themselves and motorists.”

He says the appeals were all rejected and the respective enforcement notices confirmed.

However, action on the notices was suspended because of a new application on sanitary matters – which was subsequently approved, subject to a number of conditions regarding the placing of chairs and tables on the pavement. At this point, the matter was closed.

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