While much of the world stood still as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged many economic sectors, the wheels of the construction industry continued to chug in the UAE despite various challenges, albeit at a slower pace.
The Northern Emirates, the relatively quieter region of the country – which too had experienced a boom in recent years on the back of the vibrant Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets – had a subdued but steady period this year in tune with the overall downturn.
As Expo 2020 Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s energy projects hit headlines globally, the five emirates – Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman –have been exerting efforts to focus on their priorities and ensure they meet their commitment of delivering a decent lifestyle for citizens despite the hardships thrown by the global coronavirus pandemic. Sharjah, for instance, announced the largest ever general budget in the emirate’s history at the end of last year, allocating some 32 per cent its budget to capital projects – an increase of 46 per cent over the 2020 budget – to enhance infrastructure and boost the transport network, tunnels, tourism facilities and various other service facilities.
The Northern Emirates, particularly Sharjah, have been expecting a windfall with Dubai’s hosting of the Expo 2020 but the uncertainties created by the Covid-19 have meant they were cautious about not getting their hopes too high. Now, with the Expo 2020 Dubai having opened its doors, Sharjah is keenly eyeing an upsurge in investors in both its real estate and industrial sectors.
Sharjah has, in fact, been witnessing a surge in demand for its real estate this year – with the emirate offering more affordable homes compared to its more affluent neighbour Dubai. This trend received further impetus during the work-from-home period necessitated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when residents began seeking larger, affordable homes in more serene surroundings.
According to a report issued by the Real Estate Registration Department (RERD) in Sharjah, the sector registered transactions amounting to AED6.7 billion ($1.8 billion) during the first quarter of 2021, with a growth rate of 84.9 per cent compared to the same period last year. The RERD recorded 40,346 real estate transactions worth AED12.2 billion in the first half of the year, marking a 40.5 per cent increase from January-June 2020. Residential transactions accounted for the largest share, with 49.6 per cent of the total.
Savills, a leading global real estate adviser, reported that the Grade A residential market in Sharjah has remained strong over the first half of 2021. Despite the downturn that occurred with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, activity levels have bounced back with robust demand recorded across the emirate since H2 2020. This trend has continued throughout H1 2021, the report said.
According to Savills, there are currently nine ongoing masterplanned communities in Sharjah. During H1 2021, more than 2,200 units were completed across masterplanned communities such as Aljada, Al Mamsha and Maryam Island, among others. A growing interest for more liveable space - largely a direct consequence of working from home - has led to a strong demand for townhouses and villas from investors and end-users. However, demand levels remain strong across the apartment segment as well, it said.
In response to the demand, some of the leading developers in the emirate have been launching new residential communities and expanding existing ones. A noteworthy example is Arada which early this year unveiled its latest masterplanned project, the AED8-billion ($2.2 billion) Masaar, which will feature 4,000 villas and townhouses set in eight gated districts. The 19-million-sq-ft mega community is coming up in the Suyoh district close to Tilal City, the Sharjah Mosque and its first project, Nasma Residences.
At the 24-million-sq-ft Aljada, Arada handed over first 210 homes early this year at the Dh24-billion lifestyle megaproject which will have an eventual population of more than 70,000 (see Page 42).
A trendsetting project in the emirate is the Sharjah Sustainable City (SSC), being developed by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) in partnership with Diamond Developers. Taking shape in the Al Rahmaniya area, the AED2-billion world-class mixed-use development covers a total area of 7.2 million sq ft and will include a total of 1,120 three-, four- and five-bedroom energy-efficient villas with smart features.
First phase of the development comprising 25 per cent of the total residential units in the development – or 280 villas – is now due for handover.
Shurooq has also joined hands with Eagle Hills Sharjah to build a number of projects on Maryam Island, an AED4.5-billion mega development. These include Shams Residences and Nada Residences development. Comprising 59 and 74 units respectively, the buildings are located within the Maryam Gate Residences community, the second phase of the Maryam Island mega-development.
In June this year, Shurooq launched two new beach development projects –AED110-million Al Luluyah Beach project in Khorfakkan, and the AED87-million Al Hira Beach project in Sharjah city.
Another major Sharjah development is Al Zahia, a premier lifestyle hub being jointly developed by Majid Al Futtaim Properties and Sharjah Asset Management off Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and directly on University City Road. Construction work has been recently launched on the final phase of its Al Yasmeen neighbourhood development (see Page 45).
In Ras Al Khaimah, the key focus areas are Mina Al Arab and Al Marjan Island. Among the latest developments taking shape at Mina Al Arab are a five-star Anantara Resort and the InterContinental Mina Al Arab, both being developed by RAK Properties, one of the UAE’s leading property development and tourism infrastructure companies.
At Al Marjan Island, Dubai Investments has acquired land from the master-developer to develop a mixed-use beachfront residential, resort and lifestyle destination worth AED 1 billion (see Page 18).
Meanwhile, work has well advanced on a new 418-key Mövenpick Resort for Ras Al Khaimah-based hospitality developer RAK AMI Hotel. The two buildings of the complex are connected by a 36-m-long suspended bridge, a stand-out features of the hotel that has a development value of AED543 million.
A key development in Ajman is Al Zorah, where Al Zorah Development Company recently launched the second phase of The Fairways district, making 17 new residential building plots available to investors to construct mid-rise buildings with unobstructed views towards the 18-hole championship golf course.
The Fairways comprises over 196 plots covering 1 sq km. Construction is ongoing on around 55 per cent of the sold plots to investors in Phase One. The infrastructure to serve plots in the first two phases of The Fairways will be completed by the end of this year.
Housing continues to be a major priority in the UAE. One key project under the UAE’s Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme that has been making progress is the Mohamed bin Zayed City 1 residential development in Ajman being implemented at a cost of AED1.1 billion ($300 million). The 898-unit project, to be implemented in four phases, is targeted to be ready for handover by the second quarter of 2022.
Work has been completed on the first two phases comprising 497 residential units, while the third and fourth phases of the project are under construction providing another 401 houses.
In the maritime sector, Fujairah is fully exploring the potential offered by its strategic position outside the Strait of Hormuz – being the UAE’s only multipurpose port on the eastern coast – by developing its port and storage facilities.
A mega project under way in the UAE that would give further impetus to the global status of Fujairah port is the national railway network, which extends to Fujairah, from Dubai and Sharjah. Work is currently under way on this stretch under Phase Two Package D.
Fujairah Terminals, which is implementing a long-term AED1-billion port development programme, recently marked a milestone with the completion of the expansion of its multi-purpose terminal facilities. With this expansion, the terminal’s general cargo throughput has increased to 1.3 million tonnes while a 25,000-sq-m multi-purpose area for general cargo and Ro-Ro services has been developed. Also, the container capacity has risen to 720,000 TEUs, with a total of 110,000 sq m of container terminal area. In addition, the quay wall has been extended from 760 to 1,000 m and the approach has been deepened from 12 m to 15 m to enable the port to handle larger vessels.
“Fujairah has become a leading international maritime transport centre due to its advanced infrastructure and its capacity to receive all sizes and categories of ships, tankers and shipments,” remarked Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, inaugurating Fujairah Terminals’ expansion.
There are ongoing plans to further dredge down to a 17-m draft at Fujairah Port, in addition to extend the existing quay frontage by 600 m in the second-half of 2002.
Port of Fujairah is one of the world’s key oil storage centres and the second-largest ship-bunkering hub in the world. A consortium of Six Construct, Besix’s entity in the Middle East, and Jan De Nul Group is currently working on the Dibba Bulk Handling Terminal Project at the port.
At the end of last year, Fujairah announced the completion of its new refuelling and shipping port. It is the first specialist service port in the Middle East to fully adopt environment-friendly standards.
Fujairah is also playing significant role as a hub for petroleum storage facilities and delivery of world-class marine services for the oil industry.
Brooge Petroleum and Gas Investment Company (BPGIC) recently opened its new 600,000-cu-m storage facility in Fujairah Oil Industry Zone (FOIZ). BPGIC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brooge Energy, a midstream oil storage and service provider located adjacent to the Port of Fujairah. With the launch of this Phase Two facility, its total capacity has now reached 1 million cu m (6.3 million barrels).
The company is also planning its Phase Three facility which will include crude oil tanks, while increasing capacity for fuel oil and clean products.
POWER & WATER
Construction work is well advanced on expanding and developing Layyah combined cyle power plant with a capacity of 1,026 MW, which is being implemented over three stages by the Sharjah Electricity, Water and Gas Authority.
The first phase with a capacity of 345 MW is expected to be put into operation shortly, with the second phase with a similar capacity scheduled to be completed next January, while the third phase with a capacity of 336 MW is expected to be completed in July 2022.
In addition to generating electric power, the project will use the steam produced on site to desalinate water.
Among other projects in the power sector, work has well advanced on the Hamriyah Independent Power Plant in Sharjah, with 80 per cent of the work completed. The project comprises three stages each of which can produce 600 MW.
The project aims to increase the installed production capacity to 4,600 MW of electricity, and raise the operational efficiency to more than 60 per cent. The first of the installed phases began trial operation last April, with the main operation to start shortly. The second stage is expected to be completed in February 2022 while the third and final phase will be ready a year later.
In the water sector, a major desalination project is taking shape in Umm Al Quwain at an investment of AED2.2 billion. The new plant will have four networks, with two being connected to the water supplies of the new distribution centre at Al Khuraija in Ras Al Khaimah, another to water supplies in Al Burairat, and the last one to Umm Al Quwain.
Phase One of the project is set to be completed and the plant will start processing 50 million gallons of water per day by the end of this year.