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Sat 9 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Demand for seafront living means rising to the task

Angela Giuffrida takes a look at the challenges faced by Nakheel as it continues work on its impressive but ambitious offshore project, The World.

Angela Giuffrida takes a look at the challenges faced by Nakheel as it continues work on its impressive but ambitious offshore project, The World.

Reclaimed island developments are now synonymous with construction in the Middle East, particularly in Dubai with Nakheel's Palm Trilogy and The World.

Not content with having just four reclaimed island projects, the company recently announced plans for The Universe, a collection of islands that will stretch from Port Rashid to Palm Jumeirah, bringing The World that bit closer to Dubai's shoreline.

A lot of countries have been interested in replicating The World.

Detailed plans for Waterfront, which will be made up of an inland development and six man-made islands, were also unveiled last week.

In terms of size, the development has been described as being ‘three times that of London's Wembley Stadium' and will accommodate an estimated population of 1.5 million.

The projects form part of a US $80 billion (AED 293 billion) portfolio and a strategy by Nakheel to provide the emirate with enough waterfront property to meet the projected demand between now and 2020.

According to Matt Joyce, managing director, Waterfront, Nakheel, Dubai currently ‘doesn't have enough waterfront development'.

Blueprints for such projects are now also attracting countries in other parts of the world.

"A lot of countries have been interested in replicating The World, including in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean," said Hamza Mustafa, director, The World.

But while it is true that waterfront properties attract more buyers and generally yield a higher return, the sheer number of developments under way simultaenously in the Middle East alone is posing some major challenges.

The first is finding developers with sufficient experience of developing island resorts, which is currently a challenge for the remaining 150 islands that make up The World.

While the project has attracted a fair amount of interest from celebrity buyers, it is struggling to find specialist island resort developers.

And those companies that do want to invest have to pass a rigorous due diligence test before land is handed over to them.

"You can't just buy an island. We only seek experienced developers who have already built on islands," added Mustafa.

"The whole idea of The World is to create a ‘gated community' - a group of islands that will become Dubai's most exotic destination."
The same problems are likely to arise with the reclaimed island component of Waterfront, a large part of which will be sold to subdevelopers.

"Some are doing their preliminary studies on the development," said Joyce.

"But we find that they're coming to us. We help them as a masterdeveloper and have a very impressive set of requirements that any developer working with us has to follow."

According to a Dubai-based real estate analyst, who wished to remain unnamed, having stringent guidelines in place should make it easier to attract developers, whether they are specialist island developers or not.

"The master-developer will tell the sub-developer what they can and cannot do, what the coverage and density of the land is, and so on."

"The other challenges are mainly down to marketing, such as having good brand operators and a good sales network. Of course, the rest is about financial investment."

With The World being located 4km off Dubai's coastline, contractors are also set to face massive logistical challenges once work gets under way.

These include the daily movement of thousands of construction workers to the islands, together with tonnes of plant and machinery, as well has having experienced engineers on board.

On top of this will be infrastructure issues as well as getting sewage networks and utilities services in place.

Also, with 50% of the development having a targetted completion date of early 2010, contractors and their subcontractors will be under immense time pressure.

According to Philip Hocking, a senior design manager with Bovis Lend Lease, an island project of this nature could require two to three times more the amount of time it would take to complete a mainland project.

"One of the challenges will be housing the labour force - will they ship them out there every day or are they going to build camps? If they do build camps, then they'll have issues with infrastructure," he said.

"Then there's the delivery time for materials and machinery and the storage space needed on the island, which could be limited."

Ambitious though island projects are, careful consideration will need to go into every element of post-reclamation construction for the product to be successful.

"We want to make good decisions now with the resources we have available, and are planning things very carfully," said Kathy Cusack, planning and design manager - Waterfront, Nakheel.

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