UAE to get new capital

Hassan Raafat (Abu Dhabi Bureau Chief)
Filed on April 17, 2008

ABU DHABI — In 20 years time, the country will have a new capital, built according to the vision of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

They have already mandated the Executive Affairs Authority to design and implement the significant urban planning initiative.

The project, developed in Khalifa City, near Abu Dhabi, was founded on the plan mooted by an international urban planning taskforce, which has two key objectives: to create a comprehensive urban plan to guide the evolution of the city into 2030, and to make recommendations regarding the most effective regulatory and institutional framework to manage the urban development of the city.

The new capital will be a contemporary Arab city reflecting a sustainable economy, rather than uncontrolled growth. The city will respect, be scaled to, and shaped by the natural environment of sensitive coastal and desert ecosystems. In addition, its urban fabric and community infrastructure will enable the social and cultural values of its future inhabitants.

According to Falah Al Ahbabi, director of the Urban Planning Council (UPC), the body in charge of executing the 2030 strategy in Abu Dhabi, the new capital will have an area of 4,900 hectares and its distance from the previous city’s centre will be roughly 15-20 km.

Al Ahbabi, in an interview with Khaleej Times regarding the planning committee’s vision, said that the new city would be able to accommodate three million people in less than 25 years.

He also pointed out that the headquarters of all federal authorities, ministries and local government offices will be in the new city. In addition, Khalifa City will house embassies and diplomatic delegations, decreasing the pressure on the city of Abu Dhabi.

In addition, there will be residential units, offices and exhibition centres, as well as offices that will accommodate companies and investors, which will all lead to keeping the buying/selling and renting property market under control.

The fears of regional and international struggles, which can be threatening if they reach the level of armed conflict in the region, were also being considered when planning the new capital. “Progress does not stop and our leaders are thinking of the future construction plans.

Although the strategy for 2030 is the general framework for the work, every two years approximately there will be an evaluation of what has been completed and what remains to be done. In addition, any suggestions will be put on the table and if there is a need for amending the strategy, it will be discussed,” said Al Ahbabi.

Regarding the effects on the project’s costs, triggered by the current inflation, due to the weakening of the US dollar and the expected recession in the US in the next six months, Al Ahbabi said: “Inflation, regardless of how severe it is, will have no effect on the 2030 strategy and neither will any recession in the US economy, as inflation is accompanied by an increase in oil prices. Besides, recession, even if temporary, means the existence of very large amounts of money searching for investment opportunities. These sums might be in India, China or here in the UAE, which is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East.”

As for the current increase in the residential and office rents that has put great pressure on family budgets and further caused an increase in the pricing of various products, Al Ahbabi added: “The increase in rents is mainly attributed to large sums of money entering the investment market in the form of institutions and companies after they were lying in banks. As a result of the developments in the private sector and the encouraging regulations in the recent years, these sums were taken out of banks and invested in various activities, which led to an increase in the demand for residential units. Although there were new buildings under construction, they did not meet the demand, especially considering that the percentage of demand is constantly higher, while the new buildings need time to be completed. The average time needed for a building under construction to be completed can be as long as two years, which represents a long gap between supply and demand, and it raises prices.”

Al Ahbabi, though, believes that solution for this problem is in the new cities built near Abu Dhabi, starting with Mohammad bin Zayed City. “The 2030 plan will be implemented within a relatively long period of time, yet this period is sufficient to completely finish the work, which is done in stages.

“Within the next few years, the process of receiving the completed projects will start, especially those that will be built in Mohammad bin Zayed City,” he said.

In phase 1 of the project, a significant number of federal buildings will be moved to the federal area in the Capital District. In the later phases, all federal and local government buildings will be relocated to the federal area.

He said, “As new developments are being approved, principles and policies in the plan will be applied such as final grids of pedestrian-friendly streets. The new city will also be reshaped to meet the new principles and policies. This will take time before it is applied, in order to minimise disruption of the existing city.”

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