By 2030, Abu Dhabi’s remotest settlements should be minutes rather than hours away from neighbouring cities, thanks to the planned UAE railway.

The stations are set to create new hubs of activity and investment in tourism, industry, real estate, healthcare and education, which are expected to encourage population growth in Al-Gharbia, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi. A separate economic vision is being drawn up for this remote area, called the Al-Gharbia 2030 Regional Structure Framework Plan.

Half of the spending focuses on the energy sector, but transport and power make up a further 45 per cent

The plan seeks to improve the quality of life for residents of the western region, reverse the flow of inhabitants out of the area to Abu Dhabi city and stimulate long-term growth. The aim is to do this by providing infrastructure and incentives that can support the creation of new jobs, local businesses and educational bodies, while at the same time drawing visitors to tourist attractions that build on the region’s heritage and sweeping coastline.

Detailed masterplans for western region

Achieving this will be a major challenge and it is being undertaken by the Urban Planning Council (UPC), in partnership with the Western Region Development Council (WRDC) and the Western Region Municipality (WRM).

The final draft of the 2030 framework document is scheduled for publication in 2012 and will include detailed settlement plans for each of the seven major settlements of Al-Gharbia: Liwa, Ruwais, Madinat Zayed, Ghayathi, Mirfa, Silaa and Delma. Each plan will outline the requirements for land-use, infrastructure and landscaping, along with design guidelines for new projects.

“The detailed masterplans for Liwa, Ruwais and Mirfa have been completed and the UPC is working with the WRM on their implementation,” says Amer Hussain al-Hammadi, director of planning and infrastructure at UPC. “Detailed masterplans are being completed for Madinat Zayed, Ghayathi, Delma and Silaa and [are to be completed] in six months.”

To date, Al-Gharbia’s regional economy has been dominated by the oil and gas industries, with construction and manufacturing also driven by the energy sector. Although it is acknowledged that this will remain the case, the government hopes that other industries will play a larger part in the economy in the future. For example, by 2020, tourism is intended to account for 5.2 per cent of regional gross domestic product, compared with just 1.3 per cent in 2010.

Western Region Economy
  2010 2020f
Sector $m $m
Tourism 54 327
Real Estate 245 327
Agriculture  517 681
Oil and gas 653 1171
Public Services 626 953
Other 653 953
Construction* 490 626
Manufacturing* 980 1252
*Mainly driven by oil and gas industries. F=UPC forecast. Source: UPC

Although the final framework plan is not yet complete, the WRDC has identified investments in projects worth $66bn in the area, all of which will assist in meeting the 2030 objectives. About half of this is in the oil and gas sectors, but transport and power make up a further 45 per cent of spending. The remaining $2.4bn is earmarked for tourism, housing, education and healthcare projects across the seven main settlements.

Traditionally, investment in the region has been planned and delivered via the WRM five-year strategic plans. Musabah Mubarak al-Marar, general manager of the municipality tells MEED that the organisation has been carefully integrating these short-to-medium term plans with the 2030 vision. He says that in July 2010, the organisation set up a cross-sector infrastructure working group with the main objective being to help translate a paper-based masterplan into an on-the-ground one.

Al-Marar says the municipality will be working to support all town planning and zoning activities related to the 2030 plan. It will also oversee the process for the creation, distribution and maintenance of spatial data and support the allocation and distribution of land and public housing.

Public housing is an investment priority, with schemes worth more than $1.2bn planned or under way in the region’s settlements. This includes 786 units at Ghayathi, 448 units in Silaa, 435 units in Mirfa, and 400 units in Liwa.

Planned investments for western regions

The date farming oasis of Liwa, which is famous for its prominent ancestry, has much to gain from the 2030 plan as it is set to become the administrative centre for the western region government. Planned investment involves new public buildings, wastewater network improvements and a local sports club in addition to the 400-unit housing project. In the longer term, there are also plans to link Liwa to the new federal railway. A timeframe for the migration of the government to Liwa from Madinat Zayed has not yet been determined and MEED has been informed that the subject is still under high-level discussion and plans could change.

Madinat Zayed is the most densely populated settlement of the area, with more than 29,000 inhabitants. It will benefit from increased investment in facilities, including an industrial park, 1,000 new housing units, the upgrade of the Madinat Zayed hotel and the pioneering Shams 1 solar energy projects.

For the coastal towns, which house 68 per cent of the Western Region’s population, investment priorities vary from energy and petrochemicals in Ruwais to tourism projects in Silaa, Delma and Mirfa. The coast will also host one of the biggest projects in the UAE: a nuclear power station to be built at Braka. By 2020, four new nuclear reactors are set to provide 25 per cent of the country’s energy requirements. Driving the project is the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which says it is committed to supporting the local community. “ENEC is actively recruiting in the region and participates in local career fairs,” says Ahmed al-Mazrouei, deputy chief nuclear officer.

Job creation in Al-Gharbia

The nuclear power station will create 2,000 jobs by 2020 and 60 per cent of these positions will be for UAE nationals. However, ENEC says this is the just the tip of the iceberg. “Studies of nuclear energy plants around the world show that the 2,000 people who work in the plant amount to an average of only 6 per cent of the total number of jobs created when a plant is established,” says Al-Mazrouei.

The nuclear facility will bring about new jobs and opportunities, but the 1,200-kilometre federal railway will have an even greater impact on the future of the Western Region. The $11bn network will start in Al-Gharbia with a 264km link between Shah, Habshan and Ruwais. This new line will then be extended along the entire western coast, before moving on to Abu Dhabi city and beyond.

“This will be a significant catalyst for the development of these outlying areas,” says Erland Rendall, director of the Abu Dhabi office of US-owned consultancy Davis Langdon. “Where there are stations, these nodes then build community and services. Infrastructure then sits alongside that. In the same way the west of America developed as a result of the use of the railroad I see a correlation not only in connecting up the Emirates, but the whole of the GCC.”

Silaa on the Saudi border will gain from the railway. A depot is planned for the area, which is expanding in preparation for the new traffic. The local Sorouh Real Estate plans to build 448 villas along the Silaa coastline, along with a mosque, women’s centre and retail outlets.

Social upgrades

Other projects planned in the town include a 20-bed hospital, a tourist resort and major road upgrades. Al-Marar says the major projects planned for the region, and the presence of new federal and Abu Dhabi-based organisations will have a positive impact on the area. “Clearly, such a strong presence can only alleviate the challenges associated with a major development on the scale of Al-Gharbia 2030. WRM will certainly gain from the strong presence of such big players,” he says. 

As the plans for the settlements take shape more projects are expected to arise, particularly in the transport, education, waste and water sectors. The $66bn of projects so far identified are just the start of the long-term growth plan set to bring major opportunities to Al-Gharbia.