By Benjamin Roberts
The challenging environment in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi will be a hotbed of building opportunities.
Plans for the development of the Western Region in Abu Dhabi – now officially ‘Al Gharbia’ – is reminiscent of how many of the GCC’s most developed regions were a few decades ago. The near endless desert between the seven major towns has so far evaded significant development due to its extraordinary contribution to the world’s oil and gas markets and to Abu Dhabi’s gross domestic product – from a population roughly akin to Downtown Burj Dubai.
The region is also remote and arid, with the first challenge seemingly to be where to begin. Its landmass - 59,760 km2 – makes up 83% of the emirate.
But the fact that Al Gharbia is something of a blank slate means that, ideally, developers and construction companies alike can apply the wisdom of the last few years accumulated from its own developments, those of neighbouring emirates and the Middle East in general.
“Frequently the foremost problem for projects are scale,” the Urban Planning Council told CW in an emailed response. “Frequently there is a park or business proposed that is far too large. The result is wasted space, over-landscaping, or a small structure surrounded by sand or parking.”
The UPC’s prospective sectors to develop for the towns and the space between them range from tourism, housing and schools to oil and gas refineries. Al Gharbia housing renovation has been well documented since last summer, with a two phase plan costing around US $1.1 billion (AED4 billion) by the Al Gharbia Municipality. First, there will be an upgrade to approximately 3320 houses. Second, older houses that cannot be renovated will undergo a technical report for municipality consultants. The fate of these houses is not yet clear.
The UPC is working in collaboration with Western Region Development Council and Western Region Municipality. An estimated $26.67 billion has already been announced for infrastructure, tourism, and economic development projects in the region. It has identified seven aspects to keep in mind, including protection of the area’s culture, identity and its growing population and economic development.It is now two years since the ‘Design Charette’ that brought together architects, designers, engineers and others to thrash out formative plans for the Al Gharbia region. The UPC told CW that although the designs have remained roughly the same since then, there have been minor alterations: the refinement of architectural design and detail; a revisiting of population numbers and economics related to the recent economic crisis; and a higher level of stakeholder involvement and buy-in. It could not elaborate at time of deadline as to what size of outside investment they had in mind for outside stakeholders, nor the criteria for their involvement.
China Jiangsu Construction commercial manager Brian Chan said that this project is of great interest to his company. Naif Mahmood, branch manager for Sayah Construction in Al Ain, said that the company would potentially be interested in this project to extend the small amount of work it does in Abu Dhabi.
Damac Group said it might consider investments in plots in the project, though perhaps not in the short term. “As an organisation Damac looks at all developments and if it seems like we can add value then we’ll evaluate it in our strategic time frame,” said spokesperson Niall McLoughlin. “Our short-term agenda we wouldn’t discuss, but it is something we would consider looking at.”
General Holding Corporation (GHC), the UAE’s largest industrial conglomerate and a prime mover in implementing the Abu Dhabi government’s industrial diversification policy, is likely to be one of the chief sources of funding initially. On its website it says it’s “pursuing an aggressive industrialisation programme focused on exploiting Abu Dhabi’s competitive advantages in developing energy and capital-intensive industries,” which may be fitting with the redevelopment of the oil refineries. However, there is no sign yet of specific investment plans for anything in Al Gharbia.