Applications for the erection of chairs and tables on public pavements or on makeshift platforms have shot up from just 32 in 2013 to 163 in 2017, an increase of 409%.
The major rise in applications took place between 2015 when 57 such applications were presented and 2016 when 129 applications were presented.
The surge in applications coincided with the approval of a new policy regulating outside catering establishment, which effectively allows restaurants and cafeterias to set up platforms on public roads and parking spaces as long as they leave a 1.5 metre corridor for people to pass from.
The measure is said to have resulted in a massive increase in table covers and thus profits for restaurants but has also decreased parking spaces and hindered pedestrian access especially in localities like Sliema, Gzira, Saint Julians and Marsaskala.
All restaurants along the strand in Sliema have set up such facilities to the dismay of pedestrians and residents. .
But statistics are now showing that the practice is spreading to other localities like Rabat where a platform has been recently set outside the popular Serkin snackbar.
A source in the Planning Authority has told the Shift that one major problem is that under previous administrations there were no criteria for such applications, leading to the suspicion that a select few were being awarded with such permits. Under this administration, however, it has become a free for all.
“Once you open the lid you can’t afford to please some and not others. In the end erecting chairs and tables has become a sort of automatic right for catering establishments.”
The new policy has also resulted in a decrease in the dubious practice of applying for outside tables through a simple development notification order, from 32 in 2013 to just 1 in 2017 but overall the number of applications increased drastically. Most of the applications are granted a permit.
In August, Planning Ombudsman David Pace warned that pedestrian access is being blocked and also expressed concern on the health impact of eating metres away from exhaust fumes.
Owners of demountable platforms erected to host al fresco diners are expected to pay a “planning gain” amounting to twice the contribution they pay now for taking up parking spaces.
This means that establishments granted a permit to put up demountable platforms in Sliema and Valletta are charged €4,192 for each parking space they occupy.