Residents and civil society groups took to the streets of Sliema on Saturday evening to protest what they say is the excessive encroachment of public spaces by businesses. 

A crowd of around 100 protestors held up placards reading 'public space is public' and 'no access for disabled'. They chanted slogans including 'we want our pavements back' on the walk from the Aqualuna beach club to the Fortina Hotel. 

The action saw the protesters march through bar enclosures constructed across the pavement in Sliema while music blared out in the background. 

Organised by the Sliema Residents’ Association and environmental NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), the protest comes at a time of heightened tensions between businesses and residents who say their quality of life is being disrupted and demanding obstacles such as outdoor furniture and enclosures be removed.

Protestors march through enclosures in Sliema during a protest against use of public spaces by businesses. Video: Chris Sant Fournier.

Addressing the protesters at the end of the walk outside the Fortina Hotel, a resident described leaving her flat and heading towards Sliema or Gżira as "an obstacle course."

On one side residents find themselves "in the middle of bars and restaurants and at night people are drunk, drinking and smoking lord knows what".

"They say we should go out and enjoy open spaces, but across it's also an obstacle course of ticket booths, kiosks and skips."

Shops were filling pavements with their wares, with shops becoming the pavement, rather than the physical building itself.

The resident complained about the "incompetent authorities", saying enforcement notices were useless unless they cannot actually be enforced.

The FAA stressed it was not enough to just be “keyboard warriors” complaining about business use of public land on social media while not taking action and called on residents to take a stand.

The group said that although they were protesting in Sliema, the issue of businesses encroaching on public spaces was a problem across the country, with areas including Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Buġibba, Mellieħa and Xlendi in Gozo also facing the same issue.

Wave of protests

Saturday’s protest comes a month after similar action by Valletta residents and follows a string of complaints by Sliema residents over business use of the promenade.

Last year, one resident even took the unusual step of applying for permission to take up public land herself in an effort to stop it being used by a local business.

And last month it was revealed that 68 bars, restaurants and other food establishments have a permit to put out tables and chairs on public land in Sliema and Gżira, according to figures tabled in parliament.

Protestors held up placards and chanted slogans during the march from the Aqualuna beachclub to the Fortina Hotel. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.Protestors held up placards and chanted slogans during the march from the Aqualuna beachclub to the Fortina Hotel. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.

Responding to questions on the topic recently, Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici said it was important to strike a balance between the needs of businesses and residents.

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