The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

Telegraph runs poll asking people if they would visit the Queen's old home in Malta if restored

Friday, 1 May 2015, 18:08 Last update: about 5 years ago

The Daily Telegraph is running a poll on its website asking readers if they would visit the Queen's former house in Malta if it is restored and opened to the public.

At 6pm Malta time 84% had replied Yes, they would.

Adam Alexander reported that a row is breaking out in Malta over the grand villa that was once home to Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

A leading conservationist has called on either the owners of the villa or the government of Malta to restore the once beautiful but crumbling building.

Astrid Vella said that the Queen had asked to see the property when she last visited Malta in 2007, but that the owners had reportedly refused. The row comes ahead of a royal visit to Malta later this year in November"This villa not only has immense architectural value, but is the only property outside of the UK which the Queen has called home," said Ms Vella, in an impassioned plea from the villa's steps. "If the Queen asks to visit this property again, it shouldn't be in this state. We must save it."

She argued that the government did not hesitate to acquire private property to forge ahead with road projects, and questioning whether roads were more precious than the country's heritage.

"This is the only house outside of the UK that a British monarch had resided in," said Vella. "It is crucial to our heritage and our collective memory, and could really boost quality tourist numbers. Tourists are disgusted at how we treat our heritage."

Others prominent voices in Malta, however, have taken exception to Ms Vella's view.

"Astrid Vella finds it very easy, when it suits her, to be bossy and dogmatic about other people's real estate," said leading Maltese commentator Daphne Caruana Galizia. "This is because she cannot, or will not, consider the impossible position the owners of such buildings are in."

The once beautiful house known as Villa Guardamangia, on the outskirts of Valletta, was leased by Lord Louis Mountbatten in around 1929. At various times between 1946 and 1953, the then Princess Elizabeth stayed at the villa while her fiancé, and later husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, was stationed in Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. Philip and Elizabeth then lived in Malta for a period between 1949 and 1951 - the only foreign country in which the Queen has ever lived.

It has even been suggested that Malta is where her son Charles was conceived. The Queen re-visited the villa during her state visit to Malta in 1992.

However, no one seems able to agree yet on who would foot the bill for any restoration, and the Queen's former home now appears to be in serious danger of being knocked down to make way for developers.

"Mrs Vella attributes ulterior motives to the owners: that they are deliberately allowing the house to fall into disrepair so that they can sell it to somebody who wants to build flats," explained Ms. Caruana Galizia.

"But nobody wants to buy buildings like that for the same reason that the owners don't want to live in them - they are no longer practical as homes in the 21st century. Over and above that, the real estate price is more than anybody is willing to pay for a home, and then there are the restoration and repair costs to add on. So the only market for houses like Villa Guardamangia is among developers.

"The only other solution is for the government to buy such houses outright and restore and maintain them at state expense, for public use. If these buildings are considered public heritage, then it follows that public heritage must not be maintained at private expense, enforced by law, but at public expense, but with the consent of the owners and market-price compensation paid to them, and not through enforced expropriation or requisition. The government is, apparently, in negotiation with the owners to buy Villa Guardamangia, or so it has told the press."

The row has now forced the Government of Malta to issue a statement on the villa, in which it says it had embarked on a process to restore the property "a long time ago".

 "Surveys on the property have been carried out and restoration cost estimates have been gathered," it said. "However, the government has no title on the property and this has created legal complications with its owners."

Nevertheless, the government said that it plans to expropriate it, with full compensation to its owners, because it "believes that the property is one of historical heritage".


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