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Sun 28 Aug 2005 04:00 AM

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Property chiefs hit back at Palm critics

PROPERTY chiefs have denounced reports that the flagship Palm Jumeirah project is floundering and claim the jewel in the crown of Dubai’s real estate boom will confound its critics.

A UK broadsheet claimed the US$3 billion project was in jeopardy and accused developers of over-utilising the site. It said they were building too many homes in too small a space, making access in and around the man-made island a nightmare.

But William Kistler, European president of the Urban Land Institute, an international research body that advocates best practice in land use, told Arabian Business the report — which quoted him as having serious reservations about the project — had misrepresented him. “I was annoyed by the article to say the least,” he said.

“[Dubai] has visionary leadership and has a habit of confounding the sceptics and the issues that are created by these mega projects. The pace of development has been so rapid it’s very difficult for the pace of infrastructure to keep up. It’s certainly a challenge, but I have no doubt they will sort the problems out,” he said.

IFA Hotels & Resorts, the largest investor in the Palm, has ploughed more than US$1 billion into the project and is building two large hotels and hundreds of apartments. George Khouri, IFA’s senior vice president for design and development, is confident it's money well spent. “We really have no problems. The Palm is being designed by some of the top international firms. It’s not some Mickey Mouse project. We are very confident the design will be correct,” he said.

Khouri dismissed a claim that the main trunk of Palm Jumeirah — effectively a narrow peninsula along which all road traffic for the island must pass — could become prone to heavy congestion. “The Palm will have 20 lanes going in and out. The way it’s designed you’ll be in or out in five minutes. If anything there is too much road,” he said.

The article goes on to claim that the potential congestion going into and out of the Palm, will be just the beginning of a log jam continuing onto Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s main highway — where, the report states, “traffic moves as slowly as water down a blocked drain”.

But Khouri said in addition to the government plan to expand two more lanes on each side of Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai authorities are planning an overpass highway system to route traffic onto Emirates Road. The government is also planning another major thoroughfare inland.

The report also states that bottlenecks could be likely to occur on the exits to each of the Palm’s 18 fronds. But Khouri said access to the fronds would be controlled to allow only residents and their guests. “You won’t have sightseers or people just wondering around. It will be limited to residents so the amount of traffic will be limited,” he said.

According to Nakheel’s original plans outlined on its website, Palm Jumeirah was to have held 2000 villas and 2500 apartments in a variety of styles and surroundings. In addition, the website states, a further 750 apartments have been planned on the palm’s trunk.

“Logically,” the article concludes, “these seem among that total of 4500 units but even adding them on, the total number of homes initially to be on Palm Jumeirah, including the so-called hotel-residences such as at the Fairmont, would be 5250. The current most conservative estimate of homes and so-called hotel-residences sold on it is closer to 8000. That’s before umpteen hotel rooms and 220 plus retail outlets are taken into consideration. Is the much-vaunted cluster of paradise islands in danger of becoming a congested, heaving, nightmare?”

The newspaper quotes a former Nakheel construction worker, who claims the developer grossly underestimated the cost of the construction of Palm Jumeirah and has since increased the housing stock. “The current master plan is for about 150,000 people in apartments, villas and hotels plus daily labour getting on and off,” he is quoted as saying. “But a lot of the people that are buying there are retirees, yet there are no medical facilities and no casualty evacuation plan in place.”

The newspaper’s source adds that when the company first designed Palm Jumeirah, “they didn’t even bother with fire fighting equipment because they thought they could call the inadequate fireboat out from the port at Jebel Ali”. Moreover, with no fixed master plan and the goalposts continually moving, he reckons: “At that time there was supposed to be around 5000 apartments and villas on the island. No one actually guaranteed anything so Nakheel cannot be said to have defaulted but since that first release various other developments and apartment buildings within the palm have been added.”

The construction of the Palm Jumeirah presents many enormous challenges, but as Kistler is keen to point out, they are not insurmountable challenges.

“I have been coming to Dubai for many years and have always been in awe by what I saw there and the city's incredible plans for the future," he said. “If any government has the finances, the determination and the vision to address such challanges it is the authorities in Dubai."

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