x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Arabtec starts ground tests for controversial Russian tower

Initial foundation tests at the site of the controversial Okhta tower in St Petersburg, Russia, starts after Arabtec is awarded a Dh50 million contract.

DUBAI // Arabtec Construction has started initial foundation tests at the site of the controversial Okhta tower in St Petersburg, Russia, after being awarded a Dh50 million (US$13.6m) contract. Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom, won final approval from the city's authorities for the 400-metre tower, which could become the tallest in Europe, despite public opposition to the plans and protests from UNESCO.

UNESCO has warned that St Petersburg's historic centre could be struck off the World Heritage list if the skyscraper, which will be Gazprom Neft's headquarters, is built. However, city authorities decided to waive planning rules banning buildings taller than 100 metres in St Petersburg, to allow the tower to go ahead. The foundations work is expected to be followed by two similar soil-testing contracts, which together will be completed by April next year.

The contracts are separate from a Dh10 billion deal agreed with Arabtec in April last year for the main construction work on the tower, which is still dependent on final designs and ground tests being approved by Gazprom. Arabtec, the biggest builder in the UAE, has been working with Gazprom for more than a year as it sought to revise the project's design in order to reduce costs because of the economic downturn.

The tower is the centrepiece of the Okhta Centre, which will include five other buildings and leisure facilities. Riad Kamal, the chairman of Arabtec Construction, told The National last December that the main construction contract might be reduced to Dh7bn through cost cutting. In a statement on Saturday, the company said: "These [latest] awards are separate from the main contract, and their values are not part of the main contract amount, which has been subject to long and intense negotiations with Arabtec Construction for more than a year now."

Arabtec's share price climbed 8.52 per cent to its highest level in 11 months last Wednesday, after the news that Gazprom had won approval for the project. agiuffrida@thenational.ae