Outside catering regulations brushed up under new policy

First policy including the private sector as active participant in formulation

All aspects of the regulatory framework for outdoor catering areas on public open spaces will now fall under one new policy, drawn up by the Planning Authority (PA), Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), the Government Property Department (GPD) and Transport Malta (TM).

This is the first time the private sector, through the Malta Hotels and Restaurant Association (MHRA) in this case, actively participated in the formulation of a new policy, instead of simply being consulted on it. Three government ministries were involved in the process.

Addressing a press conference for the launch of the policy, PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg said the new policy laid out clear and concise guidelines on conditions needed to be met when applying for a permit.

The policy would provide a platform for the setting up of a one-stop shop destination for entrepreneurs wishing to set up outdoor catering areas, and which would be administered by PA, he said.

Applicants will no longer be asked to obtain clearance from the respective entities themselves, as the application will be circulated with the relevant stakeholders by the authority. The application will be processed within the same timelines required for a full development permit.

The new policy gives added importance to the location, layout, design and management of these outdoor public areas so as to ensure that these function effectively and do not interfere with the safety of pedestrian public footpaths, third-party access or close-by streets.

It tackles the broader planning aspects of outdoor catering areas but also focuses on the finer design details such as the placing of planter boxes, heaters and temporary weather protection screens.

And to ensure better enforcement, all licensed outdoor catering areas will be marked by steel plates, installed flush with the surface they are being applied to, by the permitting authorities.  

Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Simplification of Administrative Processes Deborah Schembri said that the level of detail in the new policy would remove any doubts and frustrations that establishment owners may currently have.

“Glass boxes enclosing outdoor catering areas will no longer be accepted and we will finally have real al fresco dining,” she said.

“We have also established percentage thresholds to limit the area utilised by the establishments, so a square will not be entirely licensed for outside catering but will, by law, have open space accessible by the general public.”

Transport Minister Joe Mizzi said having all parties concerned – including the private sector – draw up the policy together, would result in there being no reason for anyone to object once the final regulations are published.

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said having quality tourism was only achievable through having a quality product and being more organised as a country.

“We are now streamlining regulations for the use of public land and we had to ensure that a balance was reached between the interests of the private sector and the rights of the public to access public areas,” he said.

The policy is accessible on the PA’s website.

The Malta Developers Association welcomed the new law.

"While the Outdoor Catering Policy is a measure that makes the lives of those operating restaurants much easier and lessens bureaucracy, the new Sanitary Regulations law updates laws that had been enacted more than a century ago. Therefore, there was not doubt that they needed to be updated to today’s needs," the MDA said.

"The two measures are not only pro-business, but take into consideration the environment and at the same time protect citizens. These were enacted after wide consultation, including a vote of approval on the Policy on Outdoor Catering. The MDA appeals to the Government to follow this line of action in other policies."

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