Outdoor cafes and restaurants may fit into the Mediterranean lifestyle, but serious concerns are being ignored, from the way pedestrian access is being blocked to the health impact of eating metres away from exhaust fumes.

The Commissioner for Environment and Planning, part of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has issued a strong complaint at having all his suggestions ignored by the authorities.

Commissioner David Pace said the government had failed to reply to his office's questions.Commissioner David Pace said the government had failed to reply to his office's questions.

David Pace said that one of the first complaints he dealt with on his appointment five years ago concerned the inconvenience of having to weave through tables and chairs on pavements. However, the situation has if anything worsened and recommendations have been ignored.

READ: Unlicensed tables and chairs are taking over public spaces

“Judging from the complaints still being received and regular press coverage, the situation remains very much the same, and given the large number of permits issued for such development it has clearly worsened,” he wrote.

He also stressed the urgency of doing something about it, saying that the siting of some outlets was “nothing but an accident waiting to happen”, since they lie on major thoroughfares.

Clearly there is need for a combined ‘task force’ to carry out the necessary inspections for reining in abusers, as happened in the case of beach furniture hirers

He also lamented that there was no control over the evident health risks of consuming food in an atmosphere thick with dust and exhaust fumes.

READ: Rules on al fresco dining try to balance use of public space

Eating centimetres away from a concrete mixer

“The scenario of diners ‘enjoying’ their meal a few centimetres away from a concrete mixer, caught up in a traffic jam, spewing exhaust onto their spaghetti vongole’ does not appear to concern health authorities. An article in the Daily Mail reports that, according to the World Health Organisation, diesel engine exhaust fumes cause cancer and belong in the same potentially deadly category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas,” he stressed.

Another aspect is the noise generated by these establishments and their patrons, with “unchecked abuse of loud music played well into the night and the resulting stress and inconvenience to the residents being another major headache for local councils and the police”.

“Which of the permitting authorities is responsible for the health and safety aspect of such developments? Is it Transport Malta or the Malta Tourism Authority for issuing a ‘no objection’? Is it the Lands Authority for permitting the take-up of public land? Or is it the Planning Authority for issuing the final permit?

READ: Outdoor dining... at your own risk

“Various questions were sent to the Environmental Health Directorate requesting information on what procedures are in place regarding food safety and whether the directorate is given a consultee status in planning applications for such development. Despite repeated reminders, no reply has been received to date,” he complained.

“Clearly there is need for a combined ‘task force’ to carry out the necessary inspections for reining in abusers, as happened in the case of beach furniture hirers.”

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