The current construction boom in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was originally fuelled by oil and gas, but in Dubai now 65% of GDP is in non-oil sectors such as finance, tourism and real estate.
Inward investment last year increased by around 19%. The demand for office and residential accommodation is still high and Sheikh Mohammed has stated that the current Dubai is only 20% of the vision.
Population is around 1.2M and the 2020 masterplan is based on 4M. Major developments have been announced, such as Dubai Waterfront, Arabian Canal including the new Jebel Ali Airport, Dubai Land, the Universe and Port Rashid redevelopment. More private investors and developers are now in the market and it is clear that development will continue.
Abu Dhabi was happy to play second fiddle to Dubai but that has changed and it is clear that the Emirate intends to reclaim its capital status.
Abu Dhabi is the richest emirate for natural resources and has the financial ability to fund its intended developments. Major projects are planned and in progress such as Al Raha Beach, Saadiyaat Island, Reem Island and Yas Island.
Residential property is being sold off plan as soon as it is available and property prices are climbing.
But what is really fuelling this boom is the location of the UAE and the stability of the country in what is a relatively unstable region. It is selling itself as the bridge between Asia and Europe and the place where all international companies should have a significant base.
I have direct experience of this - as Waterman has grown its international operations it became increasingly clear that the location of London was not logistically convenient as the HQ for international operations.
Costs are high, the time zone does not work, flights to Asia Pacific are too long etc. I have found that UAE solves many of these issues and as a result have moved the centre of Waterman's international operations to Dubai.
One of the major criticisms of the UAE is that the development has been unsustainable. The WWF report in November 2006 concluded that UAE was five times more unsustainable than any other country. All water is desalinated, air conditioning is essential, no public transport leads to reliance on the car (many of them four wheel drives), green areas need major irrigation (using desalinated water).
But again this is changing – there is an active green building council and all new developments need to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rated (the U.S. equivalent of BREEAM). Solar power is being utilized increasingly, two metro lines are under construction in Dubai with a third planned and alternative sources of energy are being considered.
At the World Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi last week the UAE committed £7.7bn towards alternative energy projects and also unveiled the worlds first zero carbon, zero waste and car free city in the world.
- Simon Harden is the managing director of Waterman International