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'Second downtown' closer to reality

Capital District will house all embassies and federal government institutions as well as 370,000 people, 7km inland from Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Work on the capital's "second downtown" will start in a year's time, it was announced yesterday, following a stamp of approval by the Executive Council. The Capital District will be built 7km inland from Abu Dhabi island and eventually be called home by some 370,000 people. It will also house all embassies and federal government institutions. Falah al Ahbabi, the general manager of the Urban Planning Council (UPC), said work on the district would start "aggressively" in the first or second quarter of 2010. The first phase of the project, featuring universities, housing for thousands of Emiratis and government offices, is expected to be completed within three years. Two other projects led by the UPC were approved by the Executive Council at the same time as the Capital District plan. A scheme to build community facilities in Khalifa City B, where residents have complained about a lack of amenities, was given the green light, as was a project to regenerate the Shahama and Bahia areas. "It is a massive project, of about 4,900 hectares, which consists of government buildings, commercial buildings, residential buildings, schools, and parks," Mr al Ahbabi said of the Capital District: "It is a complete sustainable city that will house 370,000 people over the course of 25 years." The district will also have a residential component including 3,000 units for Emirati citizens. The plots have been designed and are ready to be allocated. The vision for the district, which will be revealed in full at the Cityscape Abu Dhabi event next month, came to fruition after a forum involving city planners from world capitals including Washington and Brasilia at the Emirates Palace hotel in March last year. It is one of the key components of the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the blueprint for the development of the capital. Mr al Ahbabi had previously said the Capital District would ease the burden on Abu Dhabi island, and create a recognisable centre for the capital. "It will be a city for the nation, a place for people to relate to," he said last year. "If someone from Fujairah or Ajman wants to talk about their capital, they need to have a good idea about the federal district, like in Washington DC, Ottawa or Canberra." According to the general manager, the UPC is preparing tender documents. "Hiring the project manager will take probably a month or two. Preparing the tender document for the infrastructure will take probably four months," Mr al Ahbabi said yesterday. "If we are lucky and can get everything sorted out, we can start building the infrastructure in the first quarter of 2010." The general manager said the infrastructure for phase one could be completed within two years after the project was launched. "That is, of course, based on the timeframe we set and on how aggressive we want to approach the infrastructure. The infrastructure will start in the first quarter of next year and be completed in two years. "But the completion of the whole infrastructure can take up to six years, and in some areas maybe 10 years. It all depends on how aggressive we want to be on the rest of the phases." Phase one of the Capital District is the development of federal government offices, the town centre, a Sport City, the Emirati housing, and new headquarters for both Zayed University and Khalifa University. An exhibition centre or convention centre will also be built. The UPC did not disclose the cost of the project. "It is not a matter of budget but of requirements. The city centre needs to be ready in two years from the starting time. So we are doing [phase one] aggressively." As soon as the contract for the infrastructure has been awarded, the owners of the different plots will be able to start acquiring building permits, according to the UPC. "We still have a shortage of housing in Abu Dhabi," said Mr al Ahbabi. "What we need is to move aggressively on developing these developments. We understand the global situation but we are not backing off because we need these units." A blueprint produced by the Department of Transport revealed that the Capital District would be linked to Abu Dhabi island by a tram, metro and high-speed rail, which will also link up with Dubai, by 2030. The transport blueprint is expected to be finalised next month. ngillet@thenational.ae

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