Abu Dhabi is fast-tracking the launch of a major civic centre development, the capital district, as part of plans to reaffirm its position as capital of the federation and claw back momentum from its rival Dubai.

Abu Dhabi will launch the scheme, which will be the centre of government for the UAE, by the end of 2008.

“The project will be launched once the masterplan is approved in two months’ time,” says Falah al-Ahbabi, general manager of the Urban Planning Council (UPC).

The capital district is one of the key developments of the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 urban masterplan that was launched by the UPC in 2007.

Over the past decade, Abu Dhabi’s position as the federal capital has been increasingly undermined by the international success of developments in Dubai. The capital district aims to correct the balance.

Located between Mohammed bin Zayed City to the south and Khalifa City A and Abu Dhabi International airport to the north, the project aims to create a civic and cultural centre for the federation peppered with monuments and iconic architecture.

The masterplan has several key elements. The capital boulevard will lead into the heart of the development via a tree-lined thoroughfare with extensive landscaping and botanical gardens.

It is proposed that the boulevard will then pass under seven arches representing the UAE’s seven emirates and be flanked by diplomatic buildings.

At the centre of the development will be a circular area comprising mid-to-high-rise government and civic buildings, together with a central souk. The capital district will also have residential zones and a centre for commerce. It is expected to have a population of 240,000. Developments will provide 1.9 million square metres of office space, 300,000 sq m for retail purposes and 5,500 hotel rooms.

The project will also have housing for emiratis as the government sector is the main source of employment for nationals. In the private sector, expatriates dominate the workplace.

The residential areas will be low-rise buildings spreading out to the southeast, and will also include sports complexes, universities and medical centres.

Abu Dhabi’s Transport Department has appointed two UK engineering companies, Mott MacDonald and Steer Davies Gleave, to develop the emirate’s master-plan for surface transport, which will include either a metro or a light rail system. Several metro or light railway services are planned to serve commuters and visitors to the district, including Capital City Station at the heart of the landmark development.

The masterplan for the district aims to reduce the number of vehicles on Abu Dhabi island’s roads, as government employees will be able to live close to their places of work in the surrounding residential areas.

The capital district is just one of the major developments that are included in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.

The masterplan was prepared to avoid some of the planning and development problems that have been encountered in Dubai. It outlines the future development of Abu Dhabi island and its surrounding urban areas.

The masterplan includes policy outlines, detailed land-use plans, building densities and height restrictions, transport and infrastructure networks, and protected environmental zones.

The government hopes the document will provide clarity for private developers, investors and utility providers looking to develop projects in Abu Dhabi.

The plan retains a degree of flexibility and does not stipulate strict timetables for development, allowing new projects to be initiated when needed.

In recent months, Abu Dhabi has faced a shortage of residential and office space, and real estate projects have been accelerated to meet this imbalance between supply and demand.

Since 2005, Abu Dhabi has launched a raft of projects including Reem, Saadiyat and Yas islands, and Al-Raha Beach, that will bring thousands of housing units and offices on to the market over the next five years.

These projects, together with other schemes outlined in Plan 2030, such as a central business district stretching across Reem and Sowwah islands, and the existing Mina area of Abu Dhabi island, form the foundations for Abu Dhabi’s development.

Other developments include a mosque district surrounding the Grand Mosque close to the Maqta channel and a Lulu island district that will create a tourism and leisure destination off the Abu Dhabi corniche.

The developments are expected to increase Abu Dhabi city’s population to 3.17 million, from just over 1 million.