The Ombudsman has taken to parliament to demand proper rules and procedures for outdoor catering areas that sprawl over onto public land.

In a statement last week, the Ombudsman said he had handed his recommendations for better enforcement to parliament, following an investigation by his office.

The ombudsman’s investigation was sparked by a complaint about how establishments constantly encroach on public roads and pavements, without any form of permanent markings to ensure they remain within pre-set boundaries.

“The lack of cooperation, particularly from the Lands Authority, has made it difficult to find a way to enhance its administrative role, particularly on sensitive issues where commercial interests are prevalent,” the Ombudsman said.

According to the policy on outdoor catering areas in public open spaces, the fixing of steel markers must be carried out by contractors appointed by the permitting authorities and the related costs borne by the applicant.

Commissioner for planning Alan Saliba recommended that the Lands Authority formulate rules and procedures for fixing markers to define all concessions for outdoor catering areas and enforce them in line with the terms of each concession.

Lands Authority’s excuse “frivolous”

The Lands Authority reacted to Saliba’s recommendations by arguing that it is not a regulatory or “permitting authority”.

It said its role is limited to granting consent for submitting development permission applications on public property and issuing encroachment concessions to the areas granted permission by the permitting authorities.

As the Lands Authority disagreed with the commissioner’s recommendations for “unjustified reasons”, the case was referred to Prime Minister Robert Abela, and then to parliament, the ombudsman said.

In its letter to the prime minister, the ombudsman’s office said the Lands Authority’s excuse not to follow the recommendation was “frivolous”. The ombudsman’s office has insisted that, as the government property department, it was one of the “permitting authorities”.

“It is useless for the Lands Authority to continue expecting that these markings should fall under the responsibility of the Planning Authority because this is not in conformity with the equal administration of public land and because these markings are not considered development,” it said in its letter to Abela.

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