The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Protest against encroachment of public pathways to be held in Valletta

Sunday, 31 March 2024, 13:01 Last update: about 18 days ago

Residenti Beltin will be holding a protest on the 6th of April at 11am near the House of Parliament, regarding public spaces being taken over by the private sector. 

In a statement on Sunday, Mr.Billy.J McBee, the protest organizer said: "In the bustling streets of our cities, amidst the throngs of people, there exists a fundamental right often taken for granted: public access. This right, however, has been constantly under threat, increasingly encroached upon by the expanding reach of the private sector, particularly in the realm of outdoor catering. What's at stake here is not merely inconvenience but the erosion of communal services, safety concerns, and the very essence of public space itself," he said.

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"Picture this: you're walking down a sidewalk, perhaps enjoying the sunshine and the rhythm of urban life, when suddenly you encounter barricades, platforms, a swarm of menu boards, barrels, cushions, tables, and chairs sprawling out from nearby eateries. What was once a clear path is now obstructed, leaving barely enough space for pedestrians to squeeze through. This scenario is not uncommon in many urban centers around the world, where outdoor catering has become synonymous with encroachment on public access and those who are suppose to be there to protect every public aspect have clearly lost the plot (among other things) - If one entity is engaging in any wrongdoing, why should we replicate its behavior? We should actually learn from other's mistakes and not throw ourselves into the boiling pot"

"One of the most alarming consequences of this encroachment is the obstruction of emergency pathways. In the event of a crisis, every second counts, yet the proliferation of privately owned structures impedes the swift movement of emergency responders. Imagine the chaos that could ensue if ambulances or fire trucks were delayed in reaching their destinations due to blocked pathways. Lives are at stake, and yet the prioritization of profit over public safety persists. If a life is lost due to obstruction, who is responsible; the establishments, the Local Council, the Planning or MTA Authority, the Police or the State?"

"Moreover, the communal services upon which these establishments rely, such as waste management and utility access, are often neglected or compromised in the pursuit of maximizing space for outdoor seating. Trash bins overflow onto sidewalks, creating unsanitary conditions which persist over night and all the way through the early hours of morning and afternoon without a staff member cleaning right after closing time. Utility lines are damaged or obstructed, posing risks to both patrons and passersby. The very infrastructure that supports these businesses is being undermined by their own expansion. In the face of these challenges, one cannot help but ask: where does the obligation of government lie? It is the responsibility of governing bodies to uphold the rights of citizens to unimpeded public access. Yet, all too often, regulatory enforcement falls short (some intentionally), allowing private interests to dominate public spaces with impunity."

While outdoor dining can undoubtedly contribute to the vibrancy of urban life, it must not come at the expense of public welfare, he said. "There must be limitations and balance struck between economic prosperity and the preservation of public access and safety. This necessitates robust regulation and enforcement mechanisms to prevent the unchecked expansion of private sector interests into communal spaces. Law enforcement on paper only is not good enough, the State should take things seriously and track back where it went wrong, ethically. Governments must assert their authority in safeguarding public access rights, implementing strict guidelines for outdoor catering establishments to ensure compliance with safety standards and emergency protocols. This includes designated pathways for pedestrians, clear delineation of emergency routes, and regular inspections to prevent obstruction of communal services."

"Furthermore, community engagement and dialogue are essential in fostering a shared understanding of the importance of maintaining public access. By involving stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, collaborative solutions can be devised to address the concerns of all parties involved while upholding the integrity of public spaces... any common 'Joe' could have done a better job."

"In conclusion, the encroachment of the private sector into public access through outdoor catering poses a significant threat to safety, sanitation, and the overall well-being of communities. It is imperative that governments take decisive action to assert control over public spaces, ensuring that they remain accessible and safe for all. Only through concerted efforts to uphold the rights of citizens can we preserve the essence of public space and safeguard the common good."

 


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