Unlike the islands being built off the coast in other parts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sharjah is going in a new direction by building a series of canals inland from the ocean. Those canals will be filled with seawater to create the Nujoom Islands.
The project will be built over a 60m square foot area on the north coast of Sharjah with the initial phase of construction expected to cost as much as 18bn AED ($4.9bn). Under the current plan, the 10 islands separated by water channels and surrounded by a mainland will be built in three phases over a five-year period. Speaking last week at the Cityscape Dubai 2007 real estate exposition, Sheikh Abdullah Al Shakra, chairman of Al Hanoo Holding, the prime contractor for the project, announced the first phase is now nearly completed.
So far 97% of the canal digging has been completed and much care has been taken to ensure water circulation and tidal movements. This has been an issue for the original Palm Islands project, which has been plagued by sediment build-up in some areas and stagnant water in others. When completed, the water circulation system will be able to complete a full cycle every nine days, a standard better than the globally accepted average of 12 to 15 days, making the Nujoom Islands the most eco-friendly project of its type to date.
The developers hope to make the project an iconic tourist destination in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. Only 40% of the land will be used for construction, with the remaining 60% demarcated for beaches, parks and transportation infrastructure, a unique selling point for the project.
Despite a large area of the islands being off limits to developers, there is still plenty of room for prime real estate to whet the appetite of investors. The islands will have 40 towers with residential and commercial space, 145 apartment buildings, four hotels, two resorts, 1400 villas, five yacht clubs and a large commercial centre as well as nine smaller commercial centres. Two entertainment complexes and six industrial areas are also planned. The project will also boast a comprehensive list of facilities to create a modern living environment to appeal to local and foreign investors including schools, hospitals and mosques.
The integrated tourist city and residential districts will be built to accommodate around 40,000 residents. Meanwhile, once the project is completed, there will be 35km of waterfront property.
While everything seemed to be running to plan for the project, recent changes in the law regarding land-leasing rights have created some serious challenges for the developers. Until a few months ago, foreign buyers from outside the GCC could purchase a 25-year lease for the land on which the property sits, but the new law stipulates that foreign buyers are now required to renew their leases every five years.
As developments in the region increase in number, Sharjah finds itself in direct competition with other Northern Emirates like Ras Al Khaimah, which is offering freehold beachfront property and is arguably a quicker drive from downtown Dubai because of the current traffic congestion issues in Sharjah.
However, the proximity of the islands to Dubai should be one of the most attractive elements of the project for investors as the development is just 20km from the heart of the city. Even so, but the traffic issues need to be resolved for the short distance to be much of a selling point. Already the government is investing heavily in road infrastructure, linking the islands to all three of the major cities in the UAE with a series of expressways including the original Ettihad Road, the Emirates Road and a third expressway, which will be an extension of the Dubai ring road.