x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Ain wants its pavements back

Work on a beautification project falls behind schedule causing frustrated shop owners to take matters into their own hands.

A bulldozer lies idle after Al Ain municipality stopped work on car parks.
A bulldozer lies idle after Al Ain municipality stopped work on car parks.

AL AIN // Frustrated over a lengthy construction project that has hurt their businesses, shop owners are playing a cat-and-mouse game with city authorities by removing barriers to car parks, only to have the municipality put them back.

"Two weeks ago the municipality laid down new bricks in the car park, but has done nothing since," Ali Jaber, 48, owner of Al Safadi Restaurant said last week. "Since cars can now drive on the bricks, why is the car park still closed? At least let our customers use the parking until construction ends." Citing sales losses of up to 90 per cent since construction of new, wider pavements and the installation of sun shades began eight weeks ago, owners of mobile phones stores, clothing shops and restaurants on Khalifa Street want Al Ain Municipality to finish the job quickly.

They say it is now is a week behind schedule, with at least 10 more days before it is finished. When construction began in April, Mr Jaber predicted that the work near the 300-metre-long parking area, which holds up to 100 cars, would not be finished on time. "The upgrade of Zayed bin Sultan Street was supposed to have taken only three months but it has been a year so far," he said then. "I hope that does not happen here."

On Thursday afternoon, one store owner pushed aside the barricades to the car park, which remained open throughout the weekend until the municipality closed it off again on Sunday morning. "Business had increased by 90 per cent over the two days that the car park was open," Mr Jaber said on Sunday. "But when the municipality sealed it again this morning, no one has been coming to the restaurant.

"Before construction began, my business was bringing in at least Dh30,000 (US$8,200) per month. Since construction began, I have only been making between four and five thousand." By Sunday afternoon one of the business owners had reopened the car park. Asking to not be identified, he said: "We have to take matters into our own hands. We have salaries and rent to pay and have been patient with the municipality for the past seven weeks.

"Enough is enough. We cannot survive like this for much longer." Although the car park has been tiled, the pavement in front of the stores has not, meaning that those entering the businesses must walk in dust and step up nearly 20 centimetres to enter. "The municipality is a week behind schedule, and I have been losing up to 70 per cent of my business," said Farooq Hassan, 21, the Iranian owner of Future Mobile Establishment.

"Now we are being told that we have to wait 10 more days for the construction to end, but I don't see how that is possible when there is so much work that remains to be done. "There is no pavement in front of the store, the trees have to be replanted, lamp posts still have to be erected and the electricity to them has to be connected. It's going to take more than 10 days." On Sunday, not a single construction worker could be seen at the half-finished car park. Instead, down the street, two other parking lots were being torn up, with construction crews uprooting trees and breaking up the pavement.

A pharmacist at Rafa Pharmacy said his business had halved. "The situation is dangerous for all," he said. "The construction is dangerous to the business as revenue has decreased, but it is also dangerous for our customers who have to trek over broken asphalt, sand heaps and pebbles to get here." In April, the engineer Abdullah al Ameri, director of internal roads and infrastructure development at the Department of Municipal Affairs of Al Ain Municipality, said the municipality was working towards beautifying the downtown area. He said then that all six car parks would be ready by the end of September.

"The six storefront parking areas that stretch along Khalifa bin Zayed Street between the Qasidah roundabout and the Planning roundabout will be torn up in order to widen the pavement for pedestrian traffic," he said. "The pavement in front of the businesses there will be eight metres wide on each side of the street as opposed to the two metres it was originally. "The trees that have been uprooted will be planted in another part of the city, and new trees of a different kind and flowers will be planted there. The new pavement will be covered to shield pedestrians from the sun. The new parking areas will be able to accommodate the same number of vehicles as before, the only difference being that the handicapped parking spaces will be widened from three metres to five and a half metres to allow those in wheelchairs better movement."

But yesterday Mr al Ameri said the project would be completed in 10 days and requested that business owners stop reopening the car park. "The car park is a construction zone," he said. "It is not safe. There are electric wires strewn, there are cavities in the ground and the ground is not even. Someone can fall and be injured. "Whoever is removing the barriers and opening the car park is violating the law, and if someone gets hurt he will be responsible."

Mr al Ameri said he would dispatch the contractor to close the car park in a more efficient manner. ealghalib@thenational.ae