The Malta Independent 27 May 2024, Monday
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‘Balance must be reached between needs of businesses and citizens’ - PM on restaurant encroachment

Semira Abbas Shalan Monday, 22 April 2024, 14:43 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela said that balance must be reached between the needs of operating businesses and the rights of citizens to walk freely in streets, adding that authorities are progressively working to find a solution to this issue.

Abela was speaking to journalists on Monday where he was asked about government allowing businesses to take over pavements and public areas. Abela also spoke about developments on the recent controversy around a planning application for a cafeteria to be built on the Paola parish church.

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"We are not turning a blind eye to the peoples' realities and sensitivities. We are addressing this to see what solutions we can find," Abela said.

He emphasized that there needs to be balance over the issue of restaurant encroachments, and said that it is not an issue of the people versus the businesses.

"There are different perspectives by different people, there are people who themselves say that they have the right to a free passage to walk on, but at the same time, they have the right to stop for a meal or a coffee. There is this debate which is conflicting, and we must harmonise them," Abela said, taking Valletta as an example, particularly Merchant street and Republic Street.

While he recognizes that Valletta should have strong commerce and continue to attract tourists, as well as provide facilities for Maltese and Gozitans, he said, this should not be done at the expense of the community and residents.

Abela also spoke about government's investment towards the Paola church, where it protected the cultural and traditional aspect by purchasing a band club in which a musical society operated from, which was due to be removed.

On the cafeteria plans, he was asked if his views against it were contradicting due to government allowing restaurant encroachment. Abela said that he gave his opinion, but did not stop there.

"I appointed the Minister responsible, Owen Bonnici, to meet with the Parish priest. This meeting happened, where the discussion revolved around the investment needed for the restoration of damage done to the church," Abela said, adding there is a discussion process where government is looking into allocating what is needed, be it financially, or works done to restore damages.

Abela said he understood the priests' position where he faced needing to carry out restoration works, as well as needing the funds to carry them out.

He believes the economic growth and those who contributed to it should work in favour of the common good, which is seen through the re-investment of funds towards the community from taxes collected from businesses.

Abela said that the best example of this is the investment government is making towards musical societies, as well as the restoration of the country's cultural heritage.

Frustrations around restaurant encroachments have led to citizens protesting against public areas being taken over by the private sector, particularly in Valletta and Mellieha.


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