There is a palpable increase in activity in the UAE’s Northern Emirates – namely, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain - with real estate being the buzzword in their construction circles.
The improved oil prices, the UAE’s Vision 2040 programme and the incentives provided to expatriates such as the Golden Visa have provided a major impetus to the tourism and property markets, particularly within the new master-planned communities in these emirates.
Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, in particular, are seeing a noticeable surge in interest in their residential and hospitality sectors with a number of developers – both local and regional – now pushing ahead with new projects or expansion of existing developments to capitalise on the surging opportunities.
Ras Al Khaimah, a growing tourism and investment hub, is becoming increasingly attractive to investors due to its enabling business environment. The emirate has also been selected as one of the 50 world’s greatest places of 2022 by Time magazine. This means the investors in the emirate will become part of one of the most liveable destinations in the region while benefiting from the cost competitiveness of the emirate, according to a Wam report.
At least two major developments, each worth Dh1 billion ($372 million) have been announced for Ras Al Khaimah in recent months. These include Danah Bay, a vibrant, mixed-use beachfront community and lifestyle destination by Dubai Investments, and a 1,000-room resort by Abu Dhabi National Hotels. These follow the announcement that US-listed developer and luxury resort operator Wynn Resorts is joining hands with local developers to develop a major resort on Al Marjan Island, a group of four islands that boasts 7.8 km of pristine beaches, 23 km of waterfront, 12,000 planned residential units, 8,000 planned hotel rooms, 400-room wellness retreats and 600 holiday villas.
The Northern Emirates have traditionally looked up to their wealthier neighbours, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to bolster their growth and development and with the completion of tracklaying works of the main line in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah of the UAE National Rail Network, these emirates will undoubtedly benefit both in terms of their real estate and industrial growth.
In line with its anticipated growth, Ras Al Khaimah has initiated an expansion of its international airport by appointing global construction engineering group Egis to carry out the initial design of the expanded terminal as well as concept design study of a new terminal that is expected to accommodate close to two million passengers in the next 10 years.
The expansion plan comes after the surge in passengers at the emirate’s airport and the need to accommodate the increased traffic in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines.
The expansion of Sharjah airport is also on the cards. The ongoing comprehensive expansion project aims to raise the airport’s capacity to 20 million passengers, with an estimated total area of more than 120,000 sq m. This project would cost up to Dh1.9 billion and includes a complete expansion of the passenger terminal to increase capacity and ensure smooth movement through the airport.
With the completion of the tracklaying works of the main line in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah – which is now being extended to Fujairah – of the UAE National Rail Network, the Northern Emirates are now physically linked by a rail line to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Installed as part of the last package of Stage Two of the project, the main line extends from Ghuweifat on the border of Saudi Arabia, and passes through the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The last package of Stage Two of Etihad Rail project, which runs for 145 km from Sharjah to Fujairah port, passing through Ras Al Khaimah, saw important developments. In May 2022, Etihad Rail commenced track laying operations of the package. This package has 54 bridges and 20 animal crossings. It also has nine tunnels which extend over 6.9 km along Al Hajar Mountains, and include the longest tunnel in the GCC for heavy cargo, which extends over 1.8 km. This line passes through one of the most difficult geographical areas due to the mountainous terrain surrounding it (see Page 65).
Power & Water
Work on a new water transmission network across the Northern Emirates is nearing the finishing line with Etihad Water and Electricity (EtihadWE) having seen the completion of 90 per cent of the work on 29 vital projects worth Dh3 billion.
The projects, in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, will provide the required pumping, pipeline and network storage facilities to deliver water produced by the new desalination plant at Umm Al Quwain to EtihadWE customers. The projects comprise 336 km of pipeline, four pumping stations and 22 storage reservoirs.
Work is nearing completion on the Umm Al Quwain desalination plant which is being built at a cost of Dh2.2 billion. The new plant will produce 50 million imperial gallons per daily (MIGD), while the total production capacity will reach 150 MIGD once commissioned.
EtihadWE is currently working, in cooperation with its strategic partners, to implement a number of projects that are in line with the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036. It is building the water production and water transmission infrastructure to meet the needs of the Northern Emirates, which are experiencing rapid growth in population and where several new commercial and industrial mega-projects have been planned.
A pioneering project in the power and water sector which was completed this year was the UAE’s first waste-to-energy plant. The Sharjah plant is the first project of Emirates Waste to Energy, a joint venture established by Beeah Energy, the renewable energy business of Beeah Group, and Masdar, one of the world’s leading renewable energy companies.
The plant will enable Sharjah to become the Middle East’s first zero-waste city, turning unrecyclable waste into clean energy and increasing the current landfill diversion rate from 76 to 100 per cent. In addition to diverting 300,000 tonnes of waste away from landfill, the 30 MW plant will displace almost 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year and preserve the equivalent of 45 million cu m of natural gas.
Another first-of-its-kind project in the UAE is nearing completion in Ajman, where leading infrastructure major Besix has successfully passed performance and reliability tests on its flagship sludge-to-energy project.
Designed and built by Besix Middle East for Ajman Sewerage Company Limited (ASPCL), the facility transforms what was previously considered a waste stream – sewage sludge – into a valuable source of sustainable energy.
The facility permits the on-site production of green energy covering up to 50 per cent of the electricity consumption of the ASPCL wastewater treatment plant in Al Jurf. It comprises two power generators with a combined capacity of 2.4 MW, which is equivalent to the energy consumption of 2,000 households in the UAE.
Apartment rental rates across the Northern Emirates recorded marginal gains of one per cent in Q2 2022, with average annual changes of four per cent, stated a report by Asteco, a leading full-service realty company in the Middle East.
In terms of property sales in Sharjah, 21,615 real estate transactions valued at $1.7 billion were recorded in the first three months of the year, according to the Sharjah Real Estate Registration Directorate (SRERD). The majority of transactions related to the residential sector (72.1 per cent), followed by commercial (13.4 per cent), industrial (10.8 per cent) and agricultural (3.7 per cent). In fact, the number of residential properties sold increased by 17.3 per cent, from 1,044 in Q1 2021 to 1,225 in Q1 2022.
In response to the surging demand for property in these emirates, a number of developers have been focusing on delivering homes and launching new developments within their master-developments.
Sharjah developer Arada is looking at delivering around 5,000 homes by the end of this year, while the developer of Sharjah Sustainable City is currently handing over housing units within the first phase of this pioneering project.
Arada is developing three master developments - first community Nasma Residences, the mega Dh24-billion ($6.53 billion) Aljada development, Sharjah’s largest master community spread over 2.2 sq km, and Masaar, a residential sanctuary formed by eight gated communities, with abundant green space (see separate article).
Another Sharjah real estate developer Alef Group has launched Al Mamsha Raseel (Zone 3) within its Dh5-billion Al Mamsha Sharjah, a pedestrian-friendly community in the Al Muwaileh area of the northern emirate. Al Mamsha Raseel, designed as a new aqua living community in the heart of New Sharjah, will boast a total of 2,210 residential units on completion.
Earlier this year, Alef Group launched its new Dh3.5 billion ($1.03 billion) Hayyan villa community, which will offer 1,836 units across three different zones. Spread over an area of 8.7 million sq ft, the project is expected to be handed over in the second half of 2025.
Sharjah’s fully sustainable residential community, Sharjah Sustainable City being developed by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), in partnership with Diamond Developers, is launching Phase Three of the project, having begun handover of villas in Phase One of the project. (see separate article).
Another major development in Sharjah is the Al Zahia, where Majid Al Futtaim Communities and Sharjah Holding, have launched Camelia, the final neighbourhood within the premier gated community. The development comprises 80 individual freehold land plots and features a lush landscaped park at its heart.
In Ras Al Khaimah, lifestyle developer and investment company Al Hamra has embarked on the development of an exclusive freehold luxury villa project, Falcon Island, within its award-winning Al Hamra Village residential community. The Dh1-billion project is expected to be completed within two years and will be implemented in phases.
Al Hamra has also recently launched Marina Residences Phase 3, a new 318-waterfront apartment building, in the heart of Al Hamra Village.
Another major developer RAK Properties has recently begun construction of Gateway Residences 2 at Hayat Island at Mina Al Arab in the emirate.
Among the largest tourist developments set to take shape in Ras Al Khaimah is an integrated beachfront resort being developed by Marjan, a master-developer of freehold property in the emirate, RAK Hospitality Holding and Wynn Resorts. Located on the man-made Al Marjan Island, the multibillion-dollar development will be Wynn Resorts’ first in the Mena region, and its first-ever beachfront resort globally. HKS Architects has been appointed as the design consultant for the resort.
The development will include a luxury resort of more than 1,000 rooms, a high-end shopping esplanade, a state-of-the-art meetings and convention facility, an exclusive spa, more than 10 dining experiences and lounges, a wide array of entertainment choices, gaming area, and other amenities.
Meanwhile, Dubai Investments has acquired land on View Island at Al Marjan Island to develop a Dh1-billion mixed-use beachfront residential, beach resort and lifestyle destination. To be known as Danah Bay, it will include luxury townhouses and villas, residential waterfront apartments, a four-star hotel resort and retail facilities.
A similar investment is being made by Abu Dhabi National Hotels to develop a 1,000-room luxury resort on a 1 million-sq-ft site on Al Marjan Island. Construction on the project is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023 for completion by the first quarter of 2025.
Another Abu Dhabi developer Aldar in July acquired Ras Al Khaimah’s DoubleTree by Hilton Resort and Spa Marjan Island, as well as an adjacent beachfront development plot for Dh810 million. It had earlier bought Al Hamra Mall in February and Rixos Bab Al Bahr in April, highlighting the increasing confidence of developers in the tourism potential of the emirate.
Meanwhile, work is in progress at Mina Al Arab in Ras Al Khaimah on the 174-key Anantara Resort hotel, which is on track to open in the third quarter of 2023.
In Sharjah, Shurooq is spearheading the development of a number of hospitality and tourism developments. Among the latest of these to see completion is the Kalba Waterfront, a fully-integrated retail and hospitality destination which is expected to receive its first visitors by the year-end (see separate article).
In October last year, the authority opened the Mysk Moon Retreat and launched four new luxury hospitality projects: Al Jabal Resort and another 75-room five-star hotel (which will be managed by Marriott) with a water-park in Khorfakkan; a luxury hotel in Kalba; and Al Bridi Resort, part of the Sharjah Safari project in Al Dhaid.
In Ajman, Al Zorah Development Company, a joint venture between the Government of Ajman and Solidere International, is developing a new luxury beachfront resort and has selected global hospitality company The Oberoi Group to manage it.
Spread over an 828,767-sq-ft area, the new property will have 174 luxurious guestrooms, and 28 one-bedroom private villas set along the pristine white sandy beach of Al Zorah, which occupies 5.4 million sq m of lush beachfront and mangrove land.
Al Zorah Development Company has also launched work on a luxury golf and leisure clubhouse at Al Zorah Golf Club, a premier tourist and golfing destination.
Meanwhile, Al Zorah Development Company has unveiled plans for the development of 21 exclusive ultra- luxurious villas with sea views located adjacent to The Oberoi Beach Resort.