How commercial interests gnawed away at your public space in Valletta

A mixture of weak enforcement and cutthroat commercialism resulted in a gradual normalisation of illegal outdoor areas


St John’s Square and Merchants Street in Valletta used to be two of the city’s most iconic areas to walk through, with throngs of both locals and tourists passing through every single day.

While their popularity hasn’t dwindled, the amount of open space the public can enjoy without paying for a service certainly has.

An analysis of these two particularly busy areas in Valletta shows that the gradual encroachment of outdoor areas established by catering outlets has expanded, with several restaurant owners seeking to formally sanction their illegal extension onto public land.

While the analysis is by no means comprehensive and does not take into account every street in Valletta, it serves as a representative example of how the problem has aggravated over the years.

A photo from the Planning Authority’s Map Server showing all the enforcement notices (red outlines) that were filed since 2012. Multiple outlines on top of each other represent multiple enforcement notices

In June, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo told The Times of Malta that temporary permits issued to catering establishments to allow for outdoor areas during COVID-19 had been officially revoked.

When the temporary permits were issued during the pandemic, they allowed restaurants to host more guests to compensate for space taken up to observe social distancing protocols. While the revocation ought to mean that there will now be less uptake of public space, many restaurants are now seeking to sanction their highly profitable uptake of public land.

In St John’s Square alone, there is a total of eight enforcement notices which have not resulted in the removal of any of the illegalities in question.

Cafe’ Caravaggio, for example, has a pending enforcement notice about the installation of a tent without a permit. While the Planning Authority (PA) website states that the owner removed the illegality, tents nonetheless occupy the area.

The same establishment also filed a PA application (PA/1781/20) to sanction the setting up of umbrellas, tables and chairs – the application was granted approval but was appealed at the Environment Planning and Review Tribunal (EPRT), and was deferred for a decision on 14 June.

Another application (PA/853/21) to sanction umbrellas, tables and chairs for adjacent premises was also filed but did not list the name of the restaurant seeking to sanction the illegal uptake of public space.

Although this application was refused by the Planning Authority, the decision is currently being appealed by the applicant. The next hearing at the EPRT is scheduled for 20 September.

The conspicuous absence of the restaurant’s name in this application, along with several other applications seen by The Shift during its analysis, indicates a general reluctance to having the business linked to an application to sanction illegal encroachment.

San Giovanni Cafe’ is another one of the offenders in St John’s Square, with two enforcement notices in the last two years. The owners did not budge, despite the Planning Authority website claiming the case is closed and that the illegality has been removed.

Two notices were issued – EC/00002/20 and EC/00005/21. The more recent notice lists even more breaches of planning law, indicating an escalation from 2020 to 2021.

While the first notice refers to a “tented structure without a permit”, the second one refers to a “tented structure and ancillary structures encroaching on public land, and placing of tables and chairs without permit”. According to the Planning Authority, both illegalities have been removed.

The owner of Luciano’s restaurant on the corner of St John’s Square and Merchant’s Street is listed on at least three separate enforcement notices for the same site.

While the first two of these notices, EC/00003/16 and EC/00237/17, refer to the installation of “a tent/structure without a permit”, the latest notice to be served to Luciano’s, EC/00003/20, refers to multiple breaches of the conditions attached to the permit that allowed for the restaurant to be built in the first place.

The owner also filed an application (PA/2167/20) that was approved by the Planning Authority. The application effectively sanctioned the extended outdoor area, meaning it has now received the PA’s blessing.

Luciano’s restaurant (right side of the street, red doors)

At the other end of St John’s Cathedral, Kantina Kafe’ has a pending, active enforcement case over the installation of tents and related structures without a permit.

As for Merchants’ Street, the busy road has essentially become a mecca of encroachment illegalities. At least five different restaurants in that street alone have illegally taken up public space only to later attempt to sanction it.

A case that caught the public attention was the cumbersome platform installed in front of AX Group’s Rosselli Hotel, which was eventually sanctioned by the Planning Authority.

A restaurant known as La Sfoglia was slapped with an enforcement notice in 2016 for placing additional tables and chairs without a permit, an illegal canopy on its facade, and a breach of conditions from a previous permit.

While the Planning Authority claimed the case is closed, La Sfoglia’s outdoor area remains. Nearby, That’s Amore successfully sanctioned an extended outdoor catering area in 2020, including tables, chairs and umbrellas.

La Sfoglia’s outdoor area

Sesame Dim Sum & Noodle Bar is also seeking to further extend its outdoor area onto Merchants’ Street, an application that is still pending at the EPRT and will be next heard on 11 October.

A company named Danel Co. Ltd is seeking permission to convert a building on the corner of Old Theatre Street into a restaurant, including an outside serving area which will only take up more of the increasingly dwindling space available for foot traffic if approved.

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1 day ago

While the shabby former Justice Minister Owen Bonneci was secretly removing the makeshift memorial to Daphne Capuana Galizia every night,
the government here can’t seem to get anything done?

Who is to believe that?
You can’t move with your pockets full?

What is ROBBER Abela with his so named “Government” doing here? 
Nothing and speechless again.


Francis Said
Francis Said
20 hours ago

As usual the rule of law as defined by the Labour Government. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Why bother enforcing the law. What is worse, that this form of impunity encourages others to allow others to break the law.
What a great pity that the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen, has turned into a tent, table and chairs city.
I wonder how many fiscal receipts are issued by these establishments.
What a shame.

Last edited 20 hours ago by Francis Said

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