The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: Will we finally see action on the encroachment of public spaces?

Monday, 17 June 2024, 11:46 Last update: about 30 days ago

A protest was held on Saturday in Victoria, Gozo, over the takeup of St George’s square by tables and chairs belonging to catering establishments.

The protest wasn’t just held by NGOs who, over the years, have been highlighting the issue of public spaces being taken up by commercial establishments across the country. But it was also backed by local groups, including St. George’s Basilica, and cultural societies like Soċjetà Filarmonika La Stella.

They made some valid points about the situation in the square itself, such as the disruption to weddings, funerals and the celebration of the local feast.

But the issue is one that runs far deeper than just in this square.

The commercialisation of public areas has long been a hotly debated issue, and one where the authorities have generally backed the commercial entities, through their granting of permits.

Resident groups on Tuesday had also called out the Prime Minister’s bluff following his declaration that a balance had to be found between the tables and chairs blocking pavements and public places. If the Prime Minister is serious about it, the residents said, they are demanding that he set a meeting with them to discuss this issue. Will he take up this offer, or will the complaints just continue falling on deaf ears?

Will something now be done? Will the government be more willing to listen to the complaints of NGOs and others given that the Labour Party no longer holds such a vast majority that it did in the past years?

Right now the situation is too imbalanced in favour of the commercial interests. A balance does need to be found.

People do like sitting outside in summer to enjoy a meal, there is no doubt about that. But there needs to be moderation. Public squares are of course just that, public. The public have a right to enjoy that open space.

One can also point out that it is already a problem that buildings are growing higher and higher making one feel claustrophobic, the least we can do is ensure that the actual open spaces are not clogged up.

How many protests will it take for the government to review the situation and come up with better policies?

When it comes to pavements, enough space must be provided for pedestrians, and here we do not just mean for a single pedestrian to pass in both directions. People with mobility issues, or parents with children in prams, should have ample room to manoeuvre.

Another point regarding space on pavements can also be highlighted when there are construction sites – room for people to pass easily on pavements must be kept.



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