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Rampant abuse in the open

It is not surprising at all that owners of cafes and restaurants flout rules and regulations governing the placing of table and chairs outside their outlets. They even go so far as ignoring warnings from Malta Tourism Authority inspectors.

The Prime Minister has declared that the government intended taking up the issue of law and order in the country very seriously. Yet, there would seem to be absolutely no inclination on the part of cafe and restaurant owners to follow the rules. Judging by the way they are ignoring official warnings, prospects that the situation will ever be rectified are slim.

These outlet owners are acting as if they know the authorities are not likely to take any action, much less press charges, as this would cost votes and the party in government does not have a reputation of any particular keenness in instilling discipline at the risk of losing popularity.

However, if the government is indifferent to a situation where owners of cafes and restaurants situated in or close to pedestrianised areas or on the seafront feel they can practically do whatever they like, many people are not, though they know it has become useless complaining because it is unlikely that the situation would change for the better any time soon.

In fact, it is getting worse and as the al fresco dining business comes back to life in spring, the situation can easily get out of hand unless the authorities decide to knock some sense into the defaulting owners. Some simply decide to provide outdoor dining facilities come what may and others do so even before their application is approved.

There is nothing wrong in allowing outlets to provide dining facilities outside their premises, so long as this fits in well with the surrounding area and does not cause obstacles to traffic and pedestrians. Outdoor dining areas often enliven otherwise dull places. But there is a limit to what ought to be allowed, not just in terms of the number of tables placed but also the area encroached upon.

In some places, such as Gżira and Sliema, outlets have expanded their outdoor seating areas to such an extent as to almost block pavements, leaving pedestrians hardly any room to pass through. This ought not to be allowed at all.

Some owners even choose to place tables on pavements close to parking areas, exposing diners to car exhaust.

In other places, outlets have taken over – with or without the blessing of the authorities – choice sites. The seafront in picturesque Xlendi, for instance, has been practically taken up and much space has also been occupied in Marsalforn, as in other popular places too.

When the Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman lambasted a number of authorities for not taking action against eateries that set up tables on pavements without permit, he called for a coordinated approach because different authorities kept passing the buck.

The situation will never be rectified unless such authorities put their heads together and see how they, together with the central administration, can solve the problem.

The issue has been raised so many times in recent years it beggars belief that the government chooses to keep closing both eyes to abuse.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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