Building in a post-Palm world

Chris O'Donnell, chief executive of Nakheel talks to Construction Week about the handover of the first apartments on the Palm Jumeirah and what the future holds for the company in Dubai.

The handover of the first apartments on Palm Jumeirah represents a significant milestone. Was it a day you thought would never come?
To think that just five years ago, there was nothing here except someone’s vision. To create this man made island, do it in five years and have our first residents on site within that time, is incredible.

It hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world. It’s been promised but now we are at the point where it has become a reality.

How will the handover work?
We will have our first residents moving in by the end of the year. We are issuing completion certificates from November for the first phase and they will continue to about June next year. The first residents will be in occupation by December.

The issue of the completion certificate triggers a process where the owner has the ability to come and measure up their apartment, and then there is a 30-day period when investors settle their account, and in most cases pay the last 10%. We hand over the keys and then they are free to go and occupy.

Will everyone move in at once?
We will have to coordinate how the removal companies arrive on site as part of the overall logistics plan. Once people have their keys, they will be able to book the removal vans. We don’t want 500 people arriving on site in one day.

From now until June, we will start handing over the 20 shoreline apartment buildings and all of the fronds apart from frond N (where we have our labour camps) and the four at the tip, because they are not yet developed. The labour camp will be demobilised by the end of May next year.

What have been the main construction challenges you have faced until now?
There have been a number of challenges along the way and the first one of them was vibro compaction. It took a lot of time to get that done across the site.

The other big challenge is the infrastructure – determining the full load for chilled water, sewerage, and electricity. Accommodating the power needs is difficult. You have to have a certain amount of flexibility and spare capacity within all of your services and I think that has been quite a big challenge.

Finally the logistics. How do you manage a working population of 35,000 per day? How do you feed them? How do you provide medical services and a fire service for what, effectively, is a small town?

Nakheel has become very much associated with this project. Now that the first units are being handed over, what is next for the company?
From Nakheel’s point of view, we have delivered the first phase of the Palm Jumeirah and have another three or four years to go on it with the completion of hotels and other apartments that we are building.

Then there is the Village Centre, which will house the major shopping centre at the top of the trunk.

Then we have Palm Jebel Ali, where the major reclamation is complete and the vibro compation has commenced. And construction work will begin very shortly.

There is also a huge amount of work on Dubai Waterfront and the World. So offshore, we have a lot on our plate.

Then if you go inshore, we have the Lost City, Jebel Ali Village, further stages of International City and Discovery Gardens, and we are commencing the preliminary master planning work on the Arabian Canal, which will be the next ‘iconic’ development.

The creation of 80km of canal through desert will have some major engineering feats to be addressed. We are doing preliminary engineering design and looking at the hydraulics. We are really looking at how to create a canal 80km long and keep it alive? How do you flush the water and create movement so that it doesn’t stay stagnant?

It is a very big part of the initial engineering. Once again it will be the biggest in the world.

Do you think there is enough demand in this market to justify the development of Palm Deira?
Dubai is in the middle of a huge catchment area. Within a four-hour flight of the emirate you have a catchment of around two billion people. I think one of the things that will become quite obvious when we open up Palm Jumeirah to its owners, is that people will realise the only option to get a piece of this kind of action will be something like Palm Deira.

Palm Deira is a long-dated project, it will take a long time to reclaim and that is why we are concentrating on the Corniche element. At the moment we have contracts in place for the complete reclamation.

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