Shop owner compensated for losing outlets to City Gate regeneration project

Judge Lawrence Mintoff awards shop owner more than €200,000 in damages 

 

The shop selling bags and suitcases was displaced as a result of the City Gate project
The shop selling bags and suitcases was displaced as a result of the City Gate project

A family business owner has been awarded €217,280 in damages, nine years after his business suffered as a result of the City Gate regeneration project, due to the non-fulfilment of a contractual obligation by the Lands Authority.

Raphael Briffa, whose shop selling bags and suitcases had been present in the capital since 1948, had sued the Authority after a promised alternative location for his family business never materialized.

His first outlet had been housed in premises underlying the former Royal Opera House on Republic Street, but the Briffa family had bought a second outlet at the City Gate Arcades after hearing of government plans to regenerate the capital and City Gate area.

But as part of the preparations for the Valletta regeneration project, all tenants were evicted from the shopping arcade, now the site of the present-day Parliament building, and the Briffa family ended up losing both of its shops. 

His family was eligible to receive €200,000 for the Freedom Square outlet under a government compensation scheme for affected traders and an alternative outlet within the arcades on the opposite side of the square was provided to replace the main shop previously located at the Royal Opera House.

The new shop was, however, located in a remote corner of the arcades with little passing foot traffic. This resulted in Briffa losing passing trade and was not helped when plans to regenerate those arcades, including the installation of an escalator to increase the flow of shoppers to the area, came to nought.

The businessman had raised the issue with the Lands Department which had entered into a contract in 2011, stipulating that upon the termination of the lease of a shop in nearby Ordinance Street, the applicant would be given the right of first refusal to relocate his shop there.

However, despite the lapse of several years, the Lands Authority did not issue a call for offers for the shop on Ordinance Street.

Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court, declared that it was not for the court to decide upon the termination or otherwise of the current lease of the Ordinance Street outlet. The judge ruled that such a decision was likely to put the livelihood of third parties who had nothing to do with the dispute between the applicant and the authorities, in jeopardy.

But the court also upheld Briffa’s claim for damages, ruling that since the Lands Authority had failed to provide the adequate alternative it had promised as compensation for the take-over of the applicant’s Republic Street store on account of a national project, it must provide him with compensation.

The shop owner was awarded €200,000-the maximum compensation offered under the former scheme- together with an additional €17,280 reflecting inflation over the past nine years.

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