A total of €9.4 million was generated from fees for encroachment permits given to establishments seeking to use public land since 2013, according to figures presented in parliament.
The amount has more than doubled since Labour was elected to government, increasing from €639,163 in 2013 to €1,357,451 in 2021, according to figures for encroachment permits provided by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri, whose remit includes the Lands Authority. The parliamentary question was filed by Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi.
While the numbers dip slightly in 2016 and 2020, the data shows a marked, gradual increase in revenue, indicating how more and more public space is being taken up to accommodate business interests.
The Lands Authority, the entity responsible for issuing such permits, charges an annual fee of €1,500 per permit. Using this as a baseline, The Shift also extrapolated the number of permits issued per year.
Several cases of encroachment on public land were the subject of public discussion throughout last year, with particular hotspots like Valletta, Sliema and St Julian’s often carrying the lion’s share of complaints.
In September 2021, public outrage simmered over a restaurant platform in Valletta’s Merchant Street, a development by the owners of the adjacent Rosselli hotel belonging to AX Group. Regulations state that outdoor catering areas in pedestrianised streets should only be at the end of a street and always allow at least 2.5m of width.
St Julian’s and Sliema have also faced their fair share of encroachment struggles, with local councils, NGOs and residents often struggling to keep up with abusive operators flouting outdoor catering policies in the face of weak enforcement.
In April, news reports highlighted how a kiosk on Sliema’s promenade, which was built with a permit but deviated from stipulated conditions, had sought to sanction unapproved changes, including the fixed nature of the kiosk as opposed to a structure that would be removable when the adjacent restaurant (Cucina Pulita) was not open.
Despite pressure from NGOs and citizens opposing the sanctioning of the structure while calling for its removal entirely, the Planning Authority’s Commission nonetheless approved the permit and allowed the structure to remain in place.