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New lamps for old

Shades of Aladdin in recent Planning Authority decisions

An artist's impression of Sliema's most recent controversial development.

An artist's impression of Sliema's most recent controversial development.

One of my favourite stories as a kid was the ever popular Aladdin.

It lay deep in my copy of the 1001 Arabian Nights (the kid’s version, I hasten to add, not the wonderfully explicit Richard Burton version).

Most of us remember the story of the sorcerer tempting Al-Aden into a cave to fetch a lamp, refusing to let Al-Aden out of the cave until he got his hands on the lamp, in a fit of rage blocking up the entrance to the cave shutting Al-Aden in with the lamp - and subsequently our hero discovers the genie of the lamp.

The story then rushes on to show our hero get rich and marry the princess. End of story.

Well not quite. The sorcerer, still hankering after the lamp, comes back to haunt Al-Aden. This time he is disguised as a rag and bone man who offers new lamps for old.

The princess, ever the good wife and sensing a bargain, exchanges Al-aden’s battered old lamp for the new one, and disaster follows.

The story came back to me yesterday when I heard the news that the Planning Authority had given permission for an understated old building in the heart of Sliema to be given a new lease of life as a ‘Boutique hotel’.

Boutique hotel has become quite a buzzword in the tourism industry. According to Wikipedia, boutique hotel is “a small hotel which typically has between 10 and 100 rooms in unique settings with upscale accommodations”. It should feel intimate but with a big personality. it should be rich in local flavour and remind you of the region’s heritage.

Well I suppose the architects who proposed the development of The Cloisters (for that is the building in question) have certainly got that right.

The horrendous structure proposed which includes the obliteration of a well-established garden at the back, is the perfect example of Sliema’s contemporary heritage, a carbuncle worthy of a ‘Prince of Wales Award.’

It is a design of such hideousness that not even the artistic impression created by the architects (including strands of imaginary greenery in the bottom right-hand corner to provide some form of relief) can disguise its ugliness.

More interestingly it makes you wonder what type of tourist they hope to entrap, sorry attract, with the label ‘Boutique Hotel.’

Set on a busy road, a few corners away from two retirement homes and a school, with all the added traffic that that brings with it, and without even the solace of a garden to wake up to, you have to wonder what was going through the developers’ minds.

And then I had a thought… but surely not.

You see, the thing is, many moons ago, other developers ran amok all over Qawra and Bugibba, creating developments which they called hotels. The administration of the day had this brilliant idea of controlling development by putting in controls and impositions by favouring only the construction of buildings which added economic benefit to the country, such as tourism.

So developers obliged and up rose a number of ‘hotels’. But in reality all this was was a great work-around to use previously undeveloped land. Since then most of those hotels have closed down and been given a new lease of life as, yes, you guessed it, apartment blocks or holiday flats.

Now the Planning Authority (I won’t even bother using the Trumpian term ‘so-called’) has come up with another reason for granting approval. This time this building will: ”encourage new uses of existing historical buildings to catalyse rehabilitation and regeneration.” You see - ‘new lamps for old’.

I wonder: what will happen if, a few years down the line, the ‘boutique hotel’ does not attract enough boutique visitors, and the sorcerer returns, this time to exchange old lamps for new?

Some say the genie is out of the lamp. When will it be time to stuff it back in? And who will have the foresight and good will to do it?

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