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British firms face Dubai shut out over green codes

British consultants said this week they could lose out on lucrative work in Dubai after the Emirate's decision to adopt United States sustainabilty standards.

Dubai's Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) department has announced it must have engineers who are accredited professionals under US Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) codes, rather than British Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), if they want to win work on key developments.

EHS regulates the vast government backed Dubai World property developer which controls the bulk of the Emirate's construction projects.
Now, future EHS construction projects must have a LEED-qualified engineer attached to the project.

"EHS has stipulated a LEED AP [Accredited Professional] for each project, and as British engineers focus more on BREEAM, this could leave the role for British engineers in Dubai limited," said Hyder sustainable design group manager Bill Jolly.

Intelligent Buildings Group general secretary Mike Williams said that the move away from British Standards is indicative of a failure to promote a British brand.

"There are lots of opportunities for British firms in Dubai, but this could have a negative impact on consultants," said Williams.

"The Americans have been far more effective in lobbying for their standards. We charge for our standards – they give theirs away," he says.

Williams says the failure of BREEAM codes to get a toe-hold in Dubai is a failure of British leadership. "If we do not act as UK plc, then we risk being nibbled to death in lots of small bites," he said.

At present there are just 30 LEED APs working in Dubai. But this is set to change as a LEED test centre opened this week, sealing BREEAM's fate.

Last year the United Arab Emirates was exposed as the world's least sustainable country by the World Wildlife Fund.

It said the country needed 11.9 hectares of land to sustain each of its citizens. The figure for the US was 9.6ha, for the UK 5.6ha and the global average was 2.23ha per citizen.

In response, Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed issued a decree in October ordering owners of buildings in Dubai to stick to the highest international environmental standards. This stimulated a sudden mania for sustainability in the Emirate.

LEED standards have subsequently been adopted by EHS, and this will form a blueprint for the rest of the Emirate.

But James Dudt, a LEED AP for US consultant Burt Hill said LEED and BREEAM were both inappropriate solutions for Dubai.

"I think Dubai wanted to make a statement, but Middle Eastern guidelines should have been written specifically for the Middle East," said Dudt.

With LEED and BREEAM, developers can win environmental credits for using best practise, for example sourcing materials locally, or incorporating renewable energy sources in buildings.

"Too many credits simply do not apply in this climate" said Dudt. "Take regional materials – there aren't any, so it is virtually impossible to attain that LEED credit."

Although the new standards will be imposed on new build, Jolly said his firm had been approached to tweak projects to reduce their carbon footprint.

BREEAM was unavailable for comment as NCE went to press.Not to be outdone by its neighbour, Abu Dhabi began ground breaking for its Masdar zero-carbon city this week.

Designed by Foster & Partners, the car-free city will cost £11bn over seven years and will house 90,000 people. The 1.5km by 1.5km city aims to achieve a 75% reduction in water use.

Design contracts are out to tender, and as much as £500M could be spent on consultants' fees alone.

Even the construction phase will be carbon-neutral, with photo-voltaic arrays used to power machinery. These will be dismantled and attached to roofs in the new city. Toyota and Land Rover are investigating engines that could be powered with bio-diesel for heavy plant.

Residents will never be more than 150m from a transport hub, and light rail services will run below the raised city.

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