x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

First developer of The World finds construction hard going

The first developer to forge ahead with a project on The World islands off the coast of Dubai is running into construction challenges that are pushing up costs.

Josef Kleindienst, the first developer to push ahead with a project on The World archipelago, is finding construction on the reclaimed desert islands more complicated and expensive than previously thought.

The Austrian-born property tycoon announced in June that construction would begin imminently on his Heart of Europe project, with 100 workers to be living there within weeks.

But when contractors began seeking approvals and visiting the site the challenges began to mount up, Mr Kleindienst said.

"One of the problems is that we are the only ones building on The World," he said. "Our original plans were based on the idea that everyone would be out there, compacting the sand and beginning construction. If an earthquake comes, we are now trying to calculate what happens if all the islands compact at once."

The first step is carried out with heavy equipment known as vibro-compaction machines, which pound the earth to fill in any gaps under the surface and compress the sand particles together. As an island is compressed, Mr Kleindienst said, it spreads out further.

He is now looking at whether he needs to build retaining walls to protect the shape of the islands. The first phase of the project includes 20 villas for holiday makers, which will be followed by hotels and more homes.

While Mr Kleindienst is confident of his ability to continue with the project, higher costs for development on the islands could present difficulties for Nakheel. The company has received billions of dirhams from island buyers but billions more are outstanding and sales have collapsed.

Many projects on The World have stalled along with hundreds of others across the country.

Three lawsuits have been filed in the Dubai World Tribunal against The World company, owned by Nakheel, for a refund on investments in the islands.

Each trip to the islands is also a major undertaking, Mr Kleindienst said. It cost Dh60,000 (US$16,336) just to get a vibro-compaction machine to the site. Nakheel has signed an exclusive deal with Penguin Marine Boat Services for construction transport to and from the islands.

Mr Kleindienst said the rates agreed to were higher than those on the open market.

Another issue was presented by the regulator of the coast of Dubai and the islands, Trakhees, who informed Mr Kleindienst no waste can be allowed to leak into the sea.

He had wanted to plant coconut trees rather than date palms to "create a different feel" to his islands but the regulator has insisted none of the irrigation water used on the trees could be allowed to seep into the ocean because of the possibility that fertiliser would hurt the area's wildlife.

This means the coconut trees would have to be planted in sealed bags and watered at a much higher rate than if they were allowed to grow roots into the sand.

"Zero-discharge is a very difficult thing," Mr Kleindienst said. "Either we have some run-off into the water or we have to use 180 litres of sweet water, two to three times a week per tree. That is also not ideal for the environment."