As the latest wave of residential projects are launched in Abu Dhabi, it is clear there has been a change in priority for the government and local developers.

During the boom years, many of the new construction projects were designed and built for the flood of foreign people and investment that entered the Gulf over the past five years.

Developers saw glass tower blocks, marinas and artificial islands as the best way to attract foreigners and maximise profits, and as more money came in, the taller, bigger and more extravagant the buildings became.

But as the credit crunch put the brakes on the Gulf’s rapid expansion, with many proposed developments put on hold or cancelled, the influx of capital and people into the UAE has significantly reduced.

Developers have been forced to switch focus to the local market, and the housing needs of the local population. Evidence of this change can be seen in Abu Dhabi, where more than $5bn worth of residential projects for locals have already been announced in 2010.

It is not just developers that have had to concentrate on the housing needs of the local population. The majority of these projects are, either wholly or in part, government funded.

Governments have a mandate to look after their people, and, despite all of the real estate projects undertaken during the boom, there is still a shortage of housing for citizens. This is not just an issue for Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Syria face similar problems.

Local people also require social infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and universities and some of the largest contract awards of the year have been for such schemes.

Despite the current downturn, there is still work for developers and contractors, as governments are still prepared to spend money on projects for their people. Ambitions remain in the region’s real estate sector, but the targets have changed. Local people must come first.