A favourite statistic among contractors is that between a quarter and a half of the world’s tower cranes are now in Dubai. The accuracy of the statistic is open to question, especially as crane suppliers are so busy they seem to have lost count. Nevertheless, one thing is certain. The sheer pace and growth of the construction industry in Dubai is unprecedented in the Gulf. In the space of four years, the emirate has embarked on some of the most ambitious construction projects ever undertaken, and many more are in the pipeline.

The value of planned and under-construction projects in Dubai now tops $200,000 million (see table). This is a dramatic increase on the figure for 2004, thanks largely to the launch of three major schemes in late 2004 and early 2005: Business Bay, Dubai Waterfront and Jebel Ali Airport City. With so much work still in the early design stages, the construction boom has many years to run. Prospects in Abu Dhabi are equally bullish. In the buildings sector alone, some $50,000 million worth of project work is planned with major developments at Al-Raha beach, and on Al-Reem and Saadiyat islands.

Although Dubai is unlikely to launch as many projects in 2006 as it did in the past two years, opportunities for the construction industry are growing as projects enter new phases of development. Landmarks for 2006 will include the start of construction on the Dubai light rail transit (LRT) network, accelerated development at Dubailand and Palm Jebel Ali and increased activity at Business Bay and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

Dubailand

The $5,000 million Dubailand project was launched in 2003, but construction activity is only expected to begin in 2006. Some work has already started on some of the components – Dubai Sports City and City of Arabia, for example – but so far construction work has been limited to enabling and foundations. In 2006, the first major building packages will begin to be let, including the stadiums at Dubai Sports City and Mall of Arabia, one of the world’s largest shopping malls. Work will also start on enabling and infrastructure packages for other Dubailand components, including Aqua Dunya, Legends of Arabia and Falcon City.

Construction is in full swing on Palm Jumeirah, but a handful of high profile and substantial contracts are still to be awarded, including signature hotel projects such as the $1,200 million Atlantis resort, and the $200 million Fairmont Resort and Residences. With its reclamation close to completion, building work on Palm Jebel Ali will gather pace in 2006. Initially this will involve ground engineering and primary infrastructure, but towards the end of the year the first building packages will be let.

Preliminary work is also likely to start at Dubai Waterfront. Although Nakheel maintains the project’s programme is very much long-term, it has now completed its masterplan for the first phase, the Madinat al-Arab, and it may be ready to begin early grading or enabling works by the end of 2006. Enabling and infrastructure work is also expected on several other Nakheel projects, including Jumeirah Village, the Lost City and Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Airport work will continue to keep contractors busy. At Dubai International Airport, tendering is expected in the first half of 2006 for concourse 3, valued at $600 million. At the new Jebel Ali Airport, the runway package will be let in the first quarter, followed by packages for the taxiways and the various tunnels that will serve the facility. Parts of the surrounding city will also continue to be developed, including Dubai Industrial City, Logistics City and Exhibition City.

In 2005, the majority of tower projects awarded were in Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers. Building work has now started on most of the plots available in these areas, so attention is shifting to DIFC and Business Bay, as contractors move on-site for such projects as Park Towers, the Buildings of Daman, the Ritz Carlton and One Business Bay.

Villa construction will remain an abiding feature of the Dubai construction scene. Work on the 250 villas and 42 apartment blocks of Mirdif Villas project let by Dubai Properties (DP) should start in early 2006, as will other villa projects along Emirates road, at Victory Heights at Dubai Sports City, Dubai Silicon Oasis and another DP development, the Villa.

None of these schemes would work without infrastructure, and a range of public sector projects will be developed in 2006. The main focus will be on easing Dubai’s chronic traffic problems. The key public project is the LRT, with construction set to start early next year. The initial phases will include excavation and piling works for the viaducts that will run from Dubai Airport to Port Saeed, and the Burjuman Centre through to Jebel Ali.

The road network will also see substantial investment. Work is expected to start in the first half of 2006 on the third phase of the Ras al-Khor crossing and the new Garhoud bridge, the upgrade of the Dubai bypass and the new Dubai-Fujairah highway. The recently formed Road Transport Authority is also expected to announce new schemes once its detailed traffic study is completed. Potential projects include further upgrades to interchanges along Sheikh Zayed highway, a new bridge crossing the creek between the Sheraton and Bur Dubai and another crossing further up the creek in the Ras al-Khor area. Other infrastructure projects are also scheduled to start in 2006, including the construction of the Jebel Ali sewage treatment plant (STP) and the expansion of the existing Al-Aweer plant.

Dubai’s construction boom has now matured, with projects at every stage of development. And with some of its biggest schemes still to come off the drawing board, there is at least another four years of work to keep everyone happy.