ABU DHABI // The municipality will begin enforcing its new law requiring car workshops to relocate away from the heart of the city today - but business owners said the move will force out established companies.
Safety Tyres Company, in the Tourist Club Area, will close its doors in June rather than move to Musaffah - 20km out of town. The manager of the shop said business had suffered because of building in the area and a municipality-forced relocation would put too much strain on the fledgling repair shop.
"It's too much cost to move to Musaffah, too much work for customers to go to Musaffah, too much money for a place to put the shop in Musaffah," he said, adding that five employees would be out of work.
Abu, an Indian who began working for a car accessories business in Musaffah in April, said he had left his employer in the city because the company was not sure it would renew its licence this year.
"There are many car companies already operating in Musaffah. Why does the municipality want even more to come here?" said Abu.
The municipality announced last year that commercial activities - including carpentry workshops, aluminium and glass workshops and second-hand furniture shops - must be moved to Musaffah, with the grace period ending on May 1. Other businesses, including car repair workshops, auto parts stores and tyre repair shops, can only operate in an area designated as the "outskirts of Abu Dhabi Island".
None of the businesses is allowed to operate within the central district, which is bounded by the Corniche south to Al Falah Street and between Meena and 26th Street. The other areas of the island are considered the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
The end of the grace period means the public health department of the municipality will begin an awareness programme aimed at informing business owners of the regulations. A business that does not relocate will not be allowed to renew its licence.
"The municipality is interested in moving these industries because they cause negative impacts," said Khaleefa al Romaithi, the director of public health at the municipality.
Mr al Romaithi said the businesses are a public nuisance, increase air pollution, damage the image of the city and create parking problems in some neighbourhoods.
But business owners said they did not agree with the reasoning. Mohammed Farid, the managing director of M Jahangir Chowdhury Auto Parts in Madinat Zayed, said remaining in the centre of the city "makes good business sense".
"We are just selling parts, not doing service, so let us stay," said Mr Farid, a Bangladeshi who has worked at the shop for more than 25 years. "They should let a few small shops stay here and fine the ones that are making the city dirty."
Mr Farid and other business owners said rent in Musaffah would be more than double, with one manager saying he expected to have to pay at least Dh500,000 to relocate.
The municipality said last week that many companies had already relocated to Musaffah, where similar businesses have been based for years. Car dealerships and Adnoc stations will be allowed to continue to operate within the central business district. Sibi Thomas, a service adviser at Missak Motors in the Tourist Club, said he expects a drop in trade after the city branch of the business closes this year. The firm already has a Musaffah branch.
"Nobody likes this new law," said Mr Thomas, from India. "It is easy for the municipality to make a rule one day, but it is very difficult to move your business from one place to another. Most of our customers live here in this neighbourhood and they don't have time to go all the way out to Musaffah and back again. It's just not practical."
The Jabal Alnoor Electronic Wheel Balance shop is just one of dozens of auto care and tyre repair shops that run along Salam Street near Defence Road, just outside the central district.
Manager Bahram Sadagi, an Iranian who runs three shops on the strip, said even though he does not have to move, he does not agree with the regulation.
"Musaffah is very depressing," he said. "There is too much traffic and it's too far. For a small shop, it doesn't make any sense. How will anyone find you there?"
The municipality did not respond to questions about repercussions of the law to businesses.