x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Property, transport and power: Mega projects that will shape future of the Emirates

While Cityscape tracks growth in the residential market, the UAE's economic transformation is driven by megaprojects worth tens of billions of dollars.

The Shams 1 - the largest renewable energy project in the Middle East - can power 20,000 homes. Mike Malate / Shams Power Company
The Shams 1 - the largest renewable energy project in the Middle East - can power 20,000 homes. Mike Malate / Shams Power Company

Beyond the halls of Cityscape, where the towers of tomorrow will jostle for position with other real estate developments, a handful of mega projects are rapidly transforming the non-oil economy of the Emirates. They represent a key part of a blueprint aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy and using hydrocarbon wealth to build industries of the future. From the nuclear reactors taking shape in the west to the pipeline carrying crude to the east, massive infrastructure projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars are changing the industrial foundations of the country. The National staff offers an overview of the projects that are already reshaping the nation.

1. Etihad Rail – US$79 billion

Railways are the economic arteries of a country and the construction of a 1,200km freight and passenger railway network across the Emirates is expected to provide a massive boost to trade and the logistics industry. The sheer scale, cost and transformative potential of the project secures its place in the number one spot on our list of the most important projects under way in the country. Etihad Rail was established in 2009 with a mandate to build the national rail network in phases, linking the big population centres of the country while forming a key part of the planned GCC railway network eventually linking the UAE to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat in the west and Oman via Al Ain in the east. Construction is well under way with 10 tunnels and another 300 structures to be built along its route.

2. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation – $20bn

On a desolate stretch of coast 285 kilometres from Abu Dhabi, the emirate and its South Korean partners are racing to meet a 2017 deadline to complete the Arab world’s first civilian nuclear reactor – the first of four reactors in the world’s first new national atomic programme since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The $20bn project, awarded in 2009 following bids by French, American and South Korean contenders, is meant to address power demand that grows in the emirate at a rate of 10 per cent or more a year thanks in part to industrial diversification projects such as petrochemicals and steel. The power plant is to have a capacity of 5.6 gigawatts, equivalent to 56 of the emirate’s flagship solar array, Shams.

3. Dubai World Central – $32bn

Dubai World Central (DWC) is a $32bn economic zone currently under development to boost the emirate’s aviation sector and position Dubai as a centre for the global aviation industry. Occupying a 140 square kilometre site in Jebel Ali, it includes logistics, aviation, commercial, exhibition, humanitarian, residential and leisure related businesses around Al Maktoum International Airport. Once completed, DWC will have five parallel runways and four passenger terminals to support 160 million passengers per year. Currently the world’s busiest passenger airport is in the American city of Atlanta, which supports 90 million passengers per year. The airport will also have a planned annual capacity of 12 million tonnes of cargo.

4. Abu Dhabi airport expansion – US$9.7 billion

Abu Dhabi is ploughing a whopping Dh35.8bn into airport construction across the emirate, the lion’s share of which will be spent on the new Midfield Terminal. The terminal, with an initial capacity of 30 million passengers, has also been designed to accommodate both a high-speed rail link and metro connection in the future, it has emerged. The builders Arabtec, TAV and CCC won the main Dh10.8bn order to construct the terminal building in June last year. The Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates-designed terminal will be the largest building in the capital. Its central space will be big enough to accommodate three full-sized football pitches. More than 7,500 construction workers are already employed on the site. That number will rise to more than 11,000 at peak.

5. Mohammed bin Rashid City – $5.7bn

The announcement of Mohammed bin Rashid City last November confirmed that Dubai had shrugged off the malaise of its property downturn, and was back in the mega-projects business. The multibillion dirham project will involve the construction of a whole new city on Dubai’s outskirts, and may include the world’s largest shopping mall, a park a third bigger than London’s Hyde Park, the world’s largest man-made lagoon, and a Universal family theme park. The first phase of the project, known as District One, consists of 1,500 luxury villas set in 1,100 acres of parkland around the world’s biggest man-made lagoon. Show villas for the Dh21bn project, developed by a joint venture of Meydan and India’s Sobha, are expected to be completed by next month.

6. Saadiyat Cultural District

The Saadiyat Island Cultural District is a 2.43 square kilometre district on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. The neighbourhood, master planned by EDAW, includes a Louvre (designed by Jean Nouvel) and a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim museum as well as the Zayed National Museum designed by Foster + Partners and a performing arts centre designed by Zaha Hadid. The global financial crisis forced masterdeveloper TDIC to delay the projects and announce new completion dates. In January Arabtec started work on the Dh2.4bn Louvre construction. It is now scheduled to open in 2015. In August the government owner of Saadiyat invited contractors to pre-qualify for the main contract to build the Guggenheim, which is expected to open in 2017.

7. Abu Dhabi Global Market

Abu Dhabi Global Market is the capital’s new financial free zone in the making. The UAE issued a decree in February to create the zone on Al Maryah Island, which is expected to attract commercial and investment banks, foreign exchange and commodities traders, brokerages, and investment and pension funds. A recruitment spree is expected in the coming months to assist in the launch of the zone after the appointment of Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, the chief executive of Dolphin Energy, as chairman and a number of high-profile Emiratis on the board.

8. Western Region redevelopment

With a population predicted to treble from 133,800 in 2010 to 377,800 in 2030 and as the location for mega projects including the Shams solar power plant, Etihad Rail and the UAE’s first nuclear power plant, the Western Region of the UAE is gearing up for growth. In May the Western Region Development Council announced it was offering nearly 4 million square feet of land in the region to developers free of charge in an attempt to bring much-needed homes, shops and community services to towns including Madinat Zayed, Liwa, Ghayathi, Ruwais, Mirfa, Sila and Delma Island.

9. Dubai Tram – $1bn

Announced back in the boom, the Al Sufouh Tram project almost became a casualty of the global financial crisis but after stalling for two years. It is now back on track. The first phase of the tram, which will be 14.5 kilometres when complete, is scheduled to launch late next year at a cost of about Dh3.18bn. Initially the tram will link Dubai Marina with the Mall of the Emirates Metro stop via a 10.7-kilometre stretch, but later phases will run past Dubai Media City, Madinat Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab hotel, linking to the monorail on the Palm Jumeirah.

10. Sir Bu Nuair Island – $136 million

Shurooq’s first eco-tourism project within Sharjah’s islands, Sir Bu Nuair Island, covers 13 sq km, 65km off the coast of the Arabian Gulf and will be developed at a cost of half a billion dirhams. Expected by 2017 the mega project will include a five-star hotel and resort, hotel apartments and villas, a camping village, retail areas, a museum, a harbour and an airport. The island is protected thanks to its significant environmental features, including geological formations, natural flora and marine birds. It is known for its beautiful beaches and ecological diversity.