Green light for ‘al fresco pavements’ despite resident objectors

Tribunal ‘sympathised’ with objectors, but said a balance has to be reached between business and pedestrians

The Gzira seafront has now had its pavement claimed by catering businesses seeking al fresco dining space.
The Gzira seafront has now had its pavement claimed by catering businesses seeking al fresco dining space.

More tables and chairs will be placed on the Gzira strand, after the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment and planning review tribunal approved an extension of the pavement in front of the former Portside restaurant.

The tribunal said in its decision that as things stood, the strand’s pavement was one “more akin to a food court arcade” instead of an area ideal for al fresco dining, concluding that a compromise had to be reached between commercial needs and the rights of pedestrians and residents.

In February 2014, MEPA rejected the application because two parking spaces would be lost from the pavement extension, “exacerbating potential highway danger and vehicular and pedestrian conflict”.

It also said the proposed pedestrian passage was not located between the area reserved for tables and chairs and the edge of the pavement, but between the premises and the al fresco area, leading to “a conflict between pedestrians and customers”.

But applicant Michael Stivala insisted that the application be treated the same way as the one which envisaged a similar pavement extension in front of the Black Gold restaurant, approved by MEPA in 2013 after a clearance was issued by Transport Malta.

So the review tribunal concluded that although parking spaces would be lost, this would not constitute any danger to pedestrians, and that cars would have to be parked parallel instead of perpendicularly to the pavement.

It also said that the condition for pedestrian passages to be located between the al fresco area and the pavement’s edge, only applied to the fast-track DNOs (development notification order) and not to full permits like the one in question.

The tribunal said it sympathised with residents objecting to the development, acknowledging that similar development along the strand was having a negative impact on the amenity of the area.

“The roofing of table and chair areas does not result in a positive appearance and this is resulting in a ‘food court arcade’ along the whole pedestrian passage of the strand, which has a negative impact on the public space and the amenity which are the main factors why this area is attractive for al fresco dining,” the tribunal noted.

The tribunal issued the permit on condition that no permanent structures or tents are erected on the tables and chairs area.

But the owners are allowed to set up umbrellas and lightweight tents, and must delineate the al fresco area with planters not higher than 1.5 metres.

“If these conditions are adhered to a compromise may be reached between the concern of residents and the demand for tables and chairs,” the review tribunal decided.