x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Capital city 'facing crucial time in development'

The capital has entered a critical phase in becoming the sustainable city called for in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, architects and planners say.

ABU DHABI // The capital has entered a critical phase in becoming the sustainable city called for in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, architects and planners say. Building has started on projects approved since the Urban Planning Council's design review process was introduced last year, and planners now hope to watch it shape the city. "The idea of Plan 2030 and the design review too are very positive ideas; they demonstrate forward thinking," said Shahswar al Balushi, the executive director of the Urban Land Institute in Abu Dhabi.

"What we need to see now is whether most developers are going to take it seriously and go beyond the minimum requirements. "The design review is important to make sure everything in the 2030 Plan makes sense and that it is practical. It will reveal the challenges of implementing the plan. It is too early to say. We still need time to see how well this will be done. This is a critical time." As part of the review, the UPC has worked with developers to understand the plan and how individual projects fit into it. Developers must take into account issues such as urban environment, traffic needs and sustainability strategies.

John Madden, senior planning manager at the UPC, said that while there are no regulations or zoning bylaws off the island of Abu Dhabi, the design review has strengthened understanding of Plan 2030 throughout the emirate. Ian Mackie, the senior development manager at Aldar, said his Yas Island project team met the UPC design panel once a month for six months to go over the details of the project just off Abu Dhabi island.

The biggest challenge, Mr Mackie said, was having to design around components of Abu Dhabi city that do not yet exist, such as the public transit networks outlined in Plan 2030. He said the review process was more of a discussion and Aldar could fulfil the UPC's requirements the way it saw best. "What we ultimately want is satisfaction for the people living here," said Mr Mackie. "We're not just looking at our project, we're taking the whole vision for Abu Dhabi into account."

The most significant change as a result of the review had to do with maximum building heights. Yas Island had a cap of five storeys, which the UPC saw as a way to stop overdevelopment, but Aldar felt would create a shapeless landscape. They agreed on a compromise under which buildings were allowed more variation, with one part of Yas Island's amusement park reaching 15 storeys. Mr Mackie said overall the design review process was more freeing than restrictive.

Mr Madden said: "The quality of developments in Abu Dhabi has increased. We need complete communities. "We're sharing information about the environment, utilities, transportation. "For each project we discuss the adjacent areas, surrounding conditions. We're looking at the whole performance of the design, not just the specifics." jhume@thenational.ae