I START the year disappointed and not a little angry!

After 16 years of endeavour at The Cottage in the Wood - and a degree of success as accolades and awards demonstrate - I was disappointed to read that the planning application for a new 94-bedroom hotel had been approved and on top of that, hearing yet again the oft touted myth that "Malvern has no decent hotels". Frankly, I'm sick of it.

Firstly, the new hotel should not have been allowed. Why? There is insufficient business to share round now. Most hotels in Malvern are operating at around 50 per cent occupancy and any diminution in this all-too-small pool of business will mean some existing hotels will cease to exist.

Naturally, I realise that planning officers are not there to operate a protectionist policy but the council's strategic plan should give them strong guidance. It's not that I'm anti-competition, quite the reverse. Competition is healthy and can raise standards (see Ludlow) and it saddens me to see here in Malvern we've lost two important restaurants, both competitors of mine, the Croque-en-Bouche and La Boucherie (not to mention all too many retailers).

Some degree of 'help' - call it what you like - should be in place and firmly part of the council's strategic plan. Surely, there is an implicit duty to help those of us who have invested heavily in Malvern.

Why are there insufficient visitors? There has been a decade of under-investment by the district council in tourism which, after all, is the lifeblood of Malvern and its historic reason for existence.

On top of that, we suffer from ineffectual promotion by Worcestershire County Council and have a constantly changing Heart of England Tourist Council.

No wonder three competing hotels, The Cottage in the Wood, Colwall Park and the Foley Arms, 'got on their bikes' some three years ago to form a joint promotional campaign fighting fund.

We have our own PR agent, web site and joint brochure. We have linked with other local businesses and for 2004, are planning an Elgar promotion and various promotions with the Three Counties Showground.

But, and it's a big but, we haven't the financial clout to fill the void left by those listed above.

We, at The Cottage in the Wood, have raised a loan of £1 million and now offer 31 sumptuous bedrooms (no grants by the way, not a brass farthing) and the Colwall Park and Foley Arms have made significant investment in their properties over the last two to three years and also offer high levels of hospitality.

Who says we have no decent hotels and have those who are saying it bothered to visit our three hotels recently? They'd be most welcome.

I need business to flow into Malvern in order for me to fund the development loan. However, the economic reality is that The Cottage in the Wood is worth £1 million more divided into apartments than as a going hotel and restaurant operation and unless the situation changes fast, I will certainly have to explore the option. Is this what Malvern wants? It certainly feels like it.

JOHN PATTIN, proprietor, The Cottage in the Wood, Holywell Road, Malvern Wells.