Tribunal warns of danger to Gzira’s ‘al fresco’ patrons

 The Tribunal was not convinced of the safety of the proposed outdoor catering structure

A magistrate turned down a hotel’s appeal against the Lands Authority refusal to allow an outdoor catering platform, citing parking losses and the risk from moving traffic
A magistrate turned down a hotel’s appeal against the Lands Authority refusal to allow an outdoor catering platform, citing parking losses and the risk from moving traffic

A Maltese tribunal has said the Land Authority should undertake a review of the policy governing al fresco dining, a source of complaints for residents losing precious parking spaces.

The administrative review tribunal was deliberating on its decision to throw out an appeal by the owners of the Waterfront Hotel in Gzira, after their request for outdoor seating was refused by the Lands Authority’s board of governors.

“It is this tribunal’s humble opinion that the governors have every right, if not duty, to review whatever in the past could have been done better,” Magistrate Charmaine Galea said.

“What was considered acceptable in the previous years does not necessarily remain valid and acceptable today… the governors have every right and duty to review past policies as long as the decision is procedurally correct and reasonable.”

The Lands Authority refused to give the Waterfront Hotel a letter of ‘no objection’ to encroach upon two parking spaces for an outdoor seating space, citing the problems of parking on the Gzira waterfront and the dangers of the site itself.

The hotel’s owners protested that many permits had already been issued for various other establishments on the main road, and cited the outdoor catering policy which asks permitting authorities to consider each request on its own merit and to consider removable timber platforms for such concessions.

It also complained that the Lands Authority did not specify the danger posed to or by the outdoor platform, saying its plans included safety bollards and security planters to protect patrons.

In her decision, the magistrate said the outdoor catering policy prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic, and that patrons had to be safeguarded “against vehicle conflict, noise and air pollution.”

The magistrate said the Lands Authority was not being unreasonable in its refusal on the grounds that parking spaces would be lost “in the context of the huge problem for parking in this zone… one arrives to the conclusion that any parking space lost will have a huge effect.”

Additionally, the fact that the hotel – situated at a corner of the waterfront – already attracts a large amount of considerable traffic from coaches, taxies, and vans, aggravated the parking situation.

The magistrate pointed out that the compensation paid for the loss of the parking spaces was being used as “some blanket provision, as if whoever has the power to pay for the lack of parking space should expect to be given said permit. Such a planning gain is only paid once the encroachment is granted when it is considered on its own merits.”

Galea also said the Tribunal was not convinced of the safety of the proposed outdoor catering structure.

“The policy requires that such structures are of an easily removable, reversible or demountable timber platform, which implies a light structure that can be easily removed, and therefore would not withstand a car collision. There is already a lot of fast-moving traffic on the Gzira waterfront. There would be a real risk of a tragedy happening, and as we know already, recent accidents have included cars mounting pavements which also left victims. This danger is even more present if tables and chairs are placed in the street.”

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