An online petition to “free our pavements” has gathered over 1,500 signatures objecting to a Sliema kiosk that has “stolen” another slice of the promenade.

Located in the middle of the pavement on The Strand, the “bulky” windbreaker surrounding the kiosk’s adjacent area for tables and chairs is a permanent structure instead of demountable umbrellas, obstructing views.

If they adjoin kiosks and have an adverse visual impact, such structures are not permitted under the Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Spaces, the petition says.

The petitioners hold that the Sliema promenade has been constantly “raped” by the addition of kiosks, street promotions and advertisements, turning a once pleasant walk into an obstacle course. They say the promenade is being “stripped of its main purpose of relaxation and being eaten up by these companies”.

In this case, the Planning Authority approved application PA/07319/18 to change the design of an already approved kiosk. But it should have been rejected on the basis of the policy, the petition continues.

Taking advantage of the breathtaking views of Manoel Island and Valletta, it has stolen another portion of the promenade, with the area outlining the kiosk boundaries being clearly delineated by tiles.

Our birthright sold off for commercial exploitation

While the structure does not indicate suitable toilets, as the Environmental Health Department had requested, Astrid Vella from heritage NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar pointed out that a series of “unsightly” prefabricated restrooms are planned every 250 metres along The Strand, which would further ruin the promenade.

“We have had enough of our birthright sold off for commercial exploitation,” said Vella, pointing out that not only were the pavements being taken over by restaurants but also that “we are now losing our promenades” both in Għar id-Dud and The Strand.

Putting “people before profits”, Vella urged others to sign the petition.

FAA, she said, would be calling for the removal of the additional structures in accordance with approved drawings and permit conditions.

Kiosks on Għar id-Dud promenade have extended way beyond their permitted encroachment while the Planning Authority steadfastly refused to act on FAA’s reports, the NGO said.

Marsxlokk and Birgu promenades have also been taken over, and while FAA succeeded in saving the trees at it-Tokk and Senglea, trees at Marsalforn and Xlendi were removed to make way for restaurant tables. 

Pavements from Gżira to St Julian’s have also been taken over by restaurants, and chunks of Gżira Gardens and promenade are being gobbled up by the MIDI project and the Gżira hotels’ lido.

“No wonder, in the time of COVID-19, when open space is needed more than ever, people crying foul at this latest land-grab,” FAA said.

It referred to the authority’s identification of a lack of public spaces in towns in the 1990s, more of which have since been given over to speculation.

At a time when Italy was claiming back its privately owned islands, the government gave away Manoel Island – the only wooded green area in Malta’s densest conurbation – for private speculation, it said, describing this as a huge social and environmental injustice.

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