SME Chamber

Valletta cannot take it anymore

 Vince Farrugia, GRTU Director General, held a meeting this week for representatives of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, Police Officers responsible for Valletta, representatives from ADT and the office of the Prime Minister as well as representatives from the Valletta Local Council, so that together with GRTU they would draft a plan to ensure that the situation in the centre of Valletta will not deteriorate any further. Unfortunately, the situation is deteriorating at quite a fast rate, despite the Government's Investments in relation to the pedestrianisation as well as the restoration of a number of historical sites.

Accessibility remains the crucial problem for those wanting to make use of the vast facilities offered in Valletta. The wide range of shops, shopping arcades, coffee shops, restaurants and others offering a variety of services not only have made a significant investment but also employ a large number of workers. These establishments can no longer suffer the damage caused by the fact that people in general are discouraged from frequenting Valletta's commercial center. The owners' expenses to keep such establishments are large and they are facing strong competition from other commercial centres spread over the Island. Unless the accessibility problem is solved, people will keep on avoiding going to Valletta when they can get the same services from other places.

This problem was even made worse with the lack of wise planning in relation to the works on the square just opposite the parliament. This issue will not be solved by a reform in the public transport services or enhancement of the park and ride scheme. The issue is the lack of parking slots in the area around Valletta's Commercial Centre for those wanting to make use of the services offered by the establishments in Valletta.

GRTU is disappointed and crossed by the various manoeuvres and intrigues, which created a situation whereby those who try to get to Valletta by car get harshly punished. Earlier on the problem was felt in the mornings till around five in the evening. In the mornings, the parking spaces near the center are reserved to the privileged groups, members of the parliament, other people having a special permission from police on duty as well as hawkers who not only park for free but also determine where to park. This situation led a number of costumers to enter Valletta after five in the evening to avoid the parking penalty as well as the wardens wandering around the city.

The stark truth unfortunately is that those entering Valletta as customers, do not vote in Valletta's Local Councils and so no one really cares for them even though they are pillars for the Valletta establishments and thus their employees. Authorities feel that to shop or make use of the services offered in Valletta, costumers should be punished by a number of extra impositions.  Privileges are merely reserved for the residents of Valletta who have their green boxes reserved 24/7, governments bureaucrats and others with their yellow boxes, other residents having blue box, reserved after 7pm, members of the parliament (not to be discussed) and hawkers' vans (free of charge and wherever they want).

The Government recently has also abandoned the car park project for the square opposite the Parliament, which was planned to become a seven-storey car park but which turned into naught. Government though continued on the pedestrianisation works and the removal of further parking slots for general consumers, without thinking of alternative parking spaces. This is real foolish planning with the disastrous result of shops and restaurants in the centre of Valletta being destroyed.

Following the meeting, the Director General presented a number of proposals and suggesting on behalf of establishment owners on how things could be amended. What is certain is that the situation will not get better unless something is done about those who are privileged and when it comes to parking spaces they pretend they have an uncompromising right and secondly if the Government would not mind go against all odds to help the businesses in Valletta from dying a natural death after six in the evening.

If the Government remains stubborn in this way of proceeding with his plans, which plans were never approved by the community of businesses in Valletta, such businesses have a very indecisive and unclear future.  The result would be that more and more offices would move out of Valletta and more business will be opening anywhere else on the island, leading Valletta to become primary a museum for Cruise Liner Tourists who visit Valletta till five in the evening; of course if tour operators offer them this tour.

From a survey carried out by GRTU last week amongst business owners it clearly transpired that the refurbishment of St George's Square and further restrictions to parking to protect the members of parliament without any alternative parking spaces created a new problem for the business community in Valletta. Unless immediate action is taken, the restaurants, shops and other establishment may as well not open in the evenings during the week. The problem is common also for lunch time, whereby those who would like to have lunches in Valletta are finding the parking spaces vacant and reserved exclusively for the members of the parliament as from one in the afternoon.

It is already visible that Valletta is dying out, and the situation is getting worse everyday. Government needs to take action and realize the reality of the situation. Whoever says that Valletta is regaining back life with what is being done is dreaming and is not actually visiting Valletta. The authorities has to take into account the experiences of those who live and make their living in Valletta and not the experiences of those who work behind desks till five in the evening and leave.

GRTU is awaiting for an immediate reaction and is offering all its services and support to owners to find practical solutions

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