A table too many



Malta Independent



After the success of Moviment Graffitti action to remove deckchairs from Blue Lagoon and the public outcry it caused, one cannot help but think we need to focus on outdoor seated areas springing up everywhere. Pavements are being encroached on more than ever across the islands by restaurants, cafés and multitudes of bar owners. Areas have canopies, decking, large umbrellas and extended restaurant areas. While the measurements enforced with regard to spacing during the pandemic were understandable, we evidently have shifted in the opposite direction since. Seating areas are packed densely, with one business shuffled over the next. Sometimes it presents a challenge to decipher which restaurant you have sat down at. Of course, being a Mediterranean country, alfresco eating is expected and somewhat the norm; however, we are losing the integrity of beautiful scenic areas and creating havoc for passing pedestrians. Not long ago, a video went viral on social media of a disabled gentleman struggling to pass through the Marsascala promenade without risk of falling into traffic. Just last week, an ambulance could not pass through a street in Valletta because of the way tables and chairs were spread out. It was not the first time it has happened. The issue is that we are seeing more outdoor dining areas than ever before. Republic Street in Valletta once used to be bare. Now it is packed to the brim, along with many other roads in the capital. What’s more, Victoria in Gozo is not exempt from this matter. Indeed, dear reader, you have inevitably had to step out of the way at some point due to tables and chairs blocking your path. We understand it can be challenging to make a U-turn on a scenario that has escalated quickly, especially as more and more permits are being requested and handed out. The Covid19 situation accelerated the growth of outdoor entertainment, as many patrons preferred an outdoors setting to limit risks. More than 100 outlets sought permission to extend their services outdoors in 2021, as against the 63 applications received in 2020 and 68 a year earlier. What it boils down to is enforcement. Surveys urgently need to be conducted to ensure public safety, ultimately that we are not packing too many people into places where they cannot exit, or in the worst-case scenario, avail of ambulances services. Is there a real need for every inch of a promenade to be packed? Are business owners going beyond what they are permitted? It’s interesting to note in Marsaxlokk; a line has been painted along the seafront, promenade seemingly for tables to stay on one side and pedestrians to pass safely on the other. Ultimately, the public has a right to pass through urban areas without risking danger to themselves or loved ones.