In Conversation with Mr. Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Chief Executive Officer of Sharjah Sustainable City
Tell us what are Sharjah Sustainable City goals and objectives for 2021?
Sharjah Sustainable City is an AED 2 billion project in Sharjah’s Al Rahmaniya Area, spread out over a total plot size of 7.2 million sq.ft. of land. The city is a joint venture between Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Diamond Developers to meet the highest sustainability standards and lead the global movement towards sustainable living.
In 2021 we are looking to build on the successful launch of the project and continue to bring to life our vision of a fully integrated, net zero energy (NZE), and vibrant community offering a unique and sustainable lifestyle. We are nearing completion of Phase I and looking to handover the first units before the end of the year and aiming to bring Phase II to the market before the year end.
Tell us about the latest projects that Sharjah Sustainable City have delivered and are there any other upcoming projects in the pipeline?
We are currently focused on delivering Phase I of Sharjah Sustainable City, which is due to be handed over later this year. We have already sold over 60% of the first phase and completed over 70% of its construction, which puts us in good stead to launch Phase II soon, so we have an exciting period ahead.
Our show homes are already available for viewing, and a brand-new sales centre opened its doors in April, equipped with the latest in digital technology to enhance customer experience and showcase model houses, master plans, mood boards, and brochures effectively in a realistic 3D format.
With regards to other projects delivered, Diamond Developers is also responsible for The Sustainable City in Dubai, while Shurooq is the driving force behind the transformation of Sharjah, responsible for leisure and entertainment destinations such as Al Qasba, Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Noor Island, The Flag Island, Heart of Sharjah, Mleiha Archaeological & Ecotourism Project, Khorfakkan Beach, Maraya Art Centre and 1971-Design Space, and hospitality offerings including The Chedi Al Bait, Sharjah and all three Sharjah Collection properties – Al Badayer Retreat, Al Faya Retreat and Kingfisher Retreat.
What are some of the future trends you see when it comes to sustainable construction or projects?
I believe we are reaching a tipping point in the drive to incorporate ESG into the global economy. It’s been a long time coming, but governments and industries around the world are starting to realise that the economic harm caused by climate change and pollution, from severe storms, droughts, wildfires, respiratory problems in populations, and so on, far outweighs the costs of shifting to more sustainable business practices.
Like electric cars are going to become the industry standard by the end of this decade, I believe sustainable property development will also become prevalent, and projects like Sharjah Sustainable City will be ahead of the curve. Rather than having to retrofit properties, houses that come as standard with solar PVC and energy-saving technology and design will be the most sought-after by homebuyers.
Many developments are only concerned with the sustainability elements of the finished project, however there is of course a carbon footprint to the actual building process as well. We are building Sharjah Sustainable City with the highest standards of sustainable products and materials, following the footsteps of The Sustainable City in Dubai but with the latest best practices. For example, our building envelope uses Precast Wall Panels, reducing construction waste volume compared to cast-in-situ, and lowers the total Embodied Carbon. Also, the villa orientation avoids the sun and maximizes shading, while most south-facing facades are closed to reduce heat gains.
Projects like Sharjah Sustainable City will act as pioneers for the industry to showcase how you can build sustainably without compromising on lifestyle. A sustainable city improves the environment, ensures rich biodiversity, reduces air pollution, helps water storage, dampens noise and helps cooling down in warm periods. All real estate developments can benefit from these best practices even if they are not fully sustainable, as they can still have sustainable elements within them. It is also worth noting that the increasing economies of scale in the technologies and materials involved in sustainability makes that transition into implementation even more attractive.
How has Sharjah Sustainable City differentiated itself from others?
The project has been designed with the aim of reducing the carbon footprint in Sharjah and will be fully powered by renewable energy that is produced by solar panels, while recycling water and waste. Most of the agricultural products will be grown in it using modern technology such as vertical farming in greenhouses, helping to create a self-sustainable community, while generating savings of up to 50% on utility and energy bills.
There will also be an extensive network of walking and cycling paths to promote an active lifestyle and clean mobility, thereby reducing emissions. This includes 11.8 kms of rubberized jogging tracks, 1.6 km cycling tracks, 8.4 kms of pedestrian sikkas. The city features electric mobility solutions, including charging stations for electric vehicles and a distance of 2.4 kms dedicated to electric autonomous vehicles, and aims to improve the quality of life for its residents without compromising the requirements of future generations, as well as providing opportunities for research on how residential communities can reduce carbon emissions.
Even waste is utilized in order to create a circular economy. A biogas plant treats organic waste (food waste, green waste, and sludge) and converts a waste problem into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy). Residues from the biogas plant will be dried and used as fertilizer for landscaping, while a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to treat wastewater will produce Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) for landscape irrigation, achieving 100% water recycling, and avoiding emissions associated with tankers.
Can you give us a market overview of the real estate industry in the UAE and what are the positive signs you see heading into 2022?
Over the past few years, we have seen a big shift in demand from central, urban city projects such as high-rise apartment complexes to suburban lifestyle destination developments like Sharjah Sustainable City, as both local and expatriate families are looking to take advantage of attractive prices in the UAE property market to invest in a home or investment property.
Surprisingly, COVID-19 only accelerated this shift, as those whose financial stability wasn’t badly affected by the pandemic have taken the opportunity to change their living environment and move from densely-populated areas to more spacious areas with villas and gardens. We think this was driven by a desire to protect the health of their families by moving to less crowded areas, as well as a demand for homes with gardens, parks and leisure spaces where people can spend time with family during periods of lockdown and social distancing.
Our flexible payment plans capitalised on these market trends to improve the attractiveness of Sharjah Sustainable City as a property investment by making it more accessible to buyers.
This year has been an unprecedented year for the world due to COVID-19. Can you tell us how Sharjah Sustainable City has come out stronger from the pandemic?
The main challenge we faced with regards to COVID-19 was protecting the health of our workforce, our contractors, and subcontractors. We had some delays while our SHEQ teams established COVID-19 management plans, putting in place health protocols and social distancing measures on site and on transportation. We also had to implement strict cleaning and disinfection schedules to reduce the risks of infection across all our sites, facilities, and offices. However, with the quick and effective work of our SHEQ teams, we managed to keep things on track with very little impact to the health of our employees or disruption to our schedules.
On the supply side, there were not too many issues, as we have a good relationship with our suppliers, so we didn’t face major delays in securing the materials required to keep the project on track. These challenges were of course not unique to us, as the real estate sector across the world has been hit hard, and we are delighted that we are now back on track and pushing ahead.