RAS AL KHAIMAH // Residential development will be the priority in the Ras al Khaimah Government's 20-year plan for the emirate's rural south.
The region has lagged behind since the 2005 master plan transformed the north's economy and brought investment in industry, tourism and property.
Now it is hoped such development will extend to the south and its growing population.
Atkins, the largest engineering and design consultancy in the UK, started a needs evaluation a year ago and a public announcement of the resulting plan is coming. The survey assessed the area's infrastructure, transport, health care, economy and social needs.
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, the Ruler of RAK, has insisted social welfare will be the top priority.
Azza al Ahmed, a planning engineer for the municipality, said: "We are mostly and mainly considering the development of residential areas. Sheikh Saud went to sites personally to meet citizens.
"He has presented some ideas that will be incorporated so that the strategy is co-ordinated with Sheikh Saud's value for social welfare."
Most southern residents are Emiratis who live in rural villages and commute weekly to work in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Local jobs are based around quarries, but there is hope the plan will provide more opportunities.
Housing remains the top concern for residents. Since February, construction of more than 667 villas in RAK was approved by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and housing has been a top priority for Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud, the Crown Prince of RAK.
Major roadworks will follow housing. Roads in the region are usually dotted with pot holes. New roads will address citizens' concerns about the number of lorries that rattle to and from the quarries.
"We have a shortages of roads and towns there," said Abdullah Yousef, the director of the Department of Public Works. "After the plan for the houses is finished we will request for the ministries to make new road networks."
Environmental problems caused by the quarries remain a continuing concern for residents, something they hope will be addressed with zoning under the economic plan.
Healthcare centres have improved in the past year with the opening of Masafi Hospital and the a second home-care unit that serves 140 families. The 250-bed Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital is expected to open in 2013.
Healthcare authorities are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the southern development plan, as improved infrastructure, transport and housing for expatriates are necessary to attract medical professionals to the remote area.
In the small village of Munai, the hospital was closed because it could not attract professionals to staff it. The nearest facility, Hatta Hospital, is a 20-minute drive away.
Citizens have had more opportunity to voice their concerns since Sheikh Mohammed began to hold open meetings at a majlis.
"He solved a lot of problems for national people," said Jumah al Dhamani, of Munai. "I go one or two times a month to his majlis. The door is open any time, like with his grandfather in the past. Sheikh Mohammed solves our problems and develops these places."