Lands Minister Silvio Schembri dismissed concerns over restaurants and cafes in Valletta encroaching on public land despite dozens of open enforcement cases, sanctioning, and planning permits.
Nationalist Party MP Darren Carabott asked Schembri in parliament whether there had been any legal breaches of permits issued by the authority for placing tables and chairs on public land.
Schembri directed Carabott to file a report with the Lands Authority enforcement section if he knew of any breaches.
The encroachment of public property by tables and chairs from catering establishments is well known and documented throughout Malta, particularly in touristic areas and the capital of Valletta.
The Shift analysed publicly available planning applications containing the term “chair” in Planning Authority data. It revealed that over the past ten years, more than 160 applications were submitted in Valletta, with 26 submitted in 2022 alone.
The term was chosen for its prevalence in encroachment applications, often included in requests to permit or sanction “the placing of outdoor tables and chairs.”
The analysis also found that numerous other establishments have pending enforcement cases while many more simply place their tables and chairs in public areas without the correct documentation or completely illegally.
Planning Authority servers list only four pending enforcement cases for the search term in the past ten years.
The practice is additionally permitted by Schembri’s Lands Authority, which issues a ‘tables and chairs permit’ following an encroachment concession submission.
The Lands concession requires only basic plans and photos to be submitted, with no system for their enforcement or demarcation.
The lack of publicly available information on such permits means an accurate number of establishments encumbering public land cannot be determined.
The Shift has reported how a separate government policy introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic allowing catering establishments to place tables and seating outside temporarily resulted in a mushrooming of the practice.
Despite the policy being retracted, the practice remains prevalent.
Public land encroachment is also prevalent in the Sliema, St. Julian’s and Paceville areas.
Responding to another parliamentary question last May, Schembri revealed how the Lands Authority had granted almost 60 encroachment concessions in the previous three years alone.
Additionally, dozens of enforcement cases remain active in localities.
The issue spurred the Ombudsman Commissioner for Environment and Planning, architect Alan A. Saliba, to issue a statement last March lamenting the lack of demarcation and enforcement from both the Planning Authority and Lands Authority.
Saliba had concluded that “the lack of cooperation, particularly from the Lands Authority, has made it difficult to find a way to enhance its administrative role, particularly on sensitive issues where commercial interests are prevalent.”