Kurt Borg, a lecturer from the University, has strongly reacted to the news, and personally hung up a section of Immanuel Mifsud’s environmental poem as a sign of protest – with a twist.
“With apologies to the poet Immanuel Mifsud,” he wrote, “Aqta’ fjura u ibni kamra, Aqla’ ħanut tal-kotba u tella’ lukanda, Imxi metru, ibni villa, Tinkwetax…dak li sar sar,” the excerpt hung up on the permit notice reads.
Translation: “Cut a flower and build a room, Demolish a bookshop and construct a hotel, Walk a metre, build a villa, Don’t worry, what has happened, happened.”
Borg cheekily altered the second line of the popular verse, changing it to “Aqla’ ħanut tal-kotba u tella’ lukanda” which translates to “Demolish a bookshop and construct a hotel”.
The development is set to see the demolition of the new site, with the proposed construction of a hotel from levels one to ten with 72 rooms, as well as a deck area including a pool and amenities. The applicant is Mark Agius, a business associate of the construction mogul Joseph Portelli.
In his post, Borg explained how the site of the former Mireva bookshop will cease to exist, adding that the developer actually wants another floor on top of the already-approved 10 storeys.
“The site where Mireva bookshop used to be will be demolished and transformed into a 10-storey hotel. As if that’s not enough, the developer has now asked for an extra floor,” Borg wrote on social media.
“So, from a three-storey place which used to serve as a bookshop – indeed, one of the very few remaining bookshops on the island – we will have an 11-storey hotel just outside campus, just 100 metres away from yet another hotel being built at the moment,” he lamented.
Back in 2019, a similar permit for the area was recommended for rejection by the case officer, due to the plans going against a local plan of the area that doesn’t allow hotels. However, the Planning Authority had overruled the case officer’s report.
Borg also explained how a homeowner had filed a judicial protest about the permit after the developer decided he did not want to observe the minimum distance from his property during digging.
“It is also disappointing that this construction project has gone under the radar for these past three years,” he expressed.
“How come the resistance from the University was not vocal? How can we allow the further uglification of our University grounds? The University is full of architects, lawyers, sustainability experts and so on,” he questioned.
“How come this expertise is not put to good use, to actively resist and object to such decisions? Or is the warm seat of power a more convenient one?”
Borg then made reference to the budget cut that the University of Malta has just undergone, claiming that the budget cut and the development are two sides of the same coin.
“The hotel fiasco and the budget cut are two sides of the same coin, that is, neoliberal politics that are barbaric in nature. A politics that extinguishes the book to give rise to ugly buildings that negatively impact the neighbourhood,” he said.
“I come from a faculty of education. How can I look into my students’ eyes and discuss with them the power of activism and resistance, and the importance of civic education, if our University is caught up in the same predicament?”