More than 100 planning permits for new outdoor catering areas have been issued since the start of the year, an average of nearly one every two days.

Figures provided by the Planning Authority show that Valletta, Sliema, St Julian’s and Gżira have borne the brunt, with nearly half of the 109 permits issued since January being in these tourist hotspots.

The PA could not specify how many of the applications concerned pavement space and how many had taken up existing parking spaces.

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The rapid proliferation of tables and chairs outside bars and restaurants, whether on the pavement or the road, has long been a cause of frustration for local councils.

In recent weeks, the situation has also drawn the protests of the environment ombudsman, who said serious concerns – from pedestrian access to the health impact of eating metres away from exhaust fumes – were routinely ignored by the authorities.

We object as much as we can, but the council doesn’t have the resources to follow all the applications we’re being inundated with- Gżira mayor

“We object as much as we can, but the council doesn’t have the resources to follow all the applications we’re being inundated with,” Gżira mayor Conrad Borg Manché told Times of Malta. “We’ve tried to appeal, but if it’s in line with the policy then there’s no point. I don’t think there was enough consideration or consultation when the policy was introduced.”

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Mr Borg Manché said authorities were “risking a tragedy” by allowing so many roadside dining areas on the Gżira coast road, which has seen a number of traffic accidents due to speeding drivers.

Enforcement, he added, was severely lacking, with many proprietors overstepping their permitted areas and leaving no space for pedestrians trying to use the pavement.

“Unless the infrastructure is upgraded to make it safer and more suitable for this sort of thing, I’m totally against it,” he said.

WATCH: Sliema's mayor is angry about outdoor dining abuse

The policy guidelines introduced last year streamlined the application process for outdoor catering areas, making it easier for establishments to apply and requiring councils to do more legwork if they are to contest applications.

In Sliema, where the take-up of parking spaces is the biggest concern, mayor Anthony Chircop has said the policy should be suspended. He has called for it to be amended to ensure councils are part of the application process from the outset, as well as allowing authorities like Transport Malta to weigh in before developments are approved.

Environment ombudsman David Pace joined the chorus of disapproval recently, highlighting the unwillingness of any of the permitting authorities – including lands, tourism and planning – to take responsibility for the health and safety aspect of these developments.

Oliver Scicluna, chairman of the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, has also voiced his frustration over the lack of action by the authorities over complaints, calling for a “crackdown” to tackle abuse head-on.

Mr Scicluna said the problems flew in the face of efforts to increase independence for people with disability and took away from the rights of all pedestrians to use public pavements without difficulties.

Tables and chairs permits since January: most popular localities

Valletta - 17
St Julian’s - 12
Gżira - 11
St Paul’s Bay - 11
Sliema - 10
Rabat - 5
Msida - 4
Marsaxlokk - 4
Mellieħa - 3
Żebbuġ (Gozo) - 3

Source: Planning Authority

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