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10 May 2011 10:49 am

Qatar faces higher building prices

JoJo
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Qatar may have to grapple with soaring building material prices and a shortage of skilled labour as it gears up to build an ambitious infrastructure programme in time for the 2022 World Cup, consultants say. Carbon-neutral stadiums, employing state-of-the-art solar powered cooling technology and a $25bn underground rail system that must be built in 10 years, will require a specialised labour force that will work under significant time pressures, according to experts. “There are massive time constraints and there are huge challenges not just for the stadiums but for the broader infrastructure,” said Ken Jones, group director for UK consultant engineer Buro Happold. Qatar won the hosting rights for 2022 soccer World Cup in December, beating off competition from Japan, Australia, Korea and the US. Some analysts have estimated the price tag for the World Cup to be around $100bn, although much of Qatar’s infrastructure, including a $25bn metro system and a larger national rail network, was planned before the country was selected to host soccer’s marquee event. Qatar has promised 55,000 new hotel rooms, extensive training sites, team facilities and fan areas. It has also said it will spend $3bn on nine new and three renovated stadiums with revolutionary cooling systems. “Sourcing labour is going to very difficult,” said Simon Summers, Dubai-based director of global architecture firm Aedas, which intends to bid on upcoming transport projects in Qatar including the Doha Metro. “To deliver such high quality design to tight deadlines requires sophisticated contractors with a much higher degree of skilled labour,” he said, adding that the logistical complexities of accommodating, training and transporting labour could also prove a further headache for the country. A spokesman for Qatar 2022 declined to comment. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, already had ambitious infrastructure plans before it won the right to host the World Cup, earmarking $225bn of domestic investment over the next five years alone. The country will drive double-digit economic growth by spending $20bn on roads over the next five years, as well as building an $11bn airport and a $5.5bn deepwater seaport. Projects like the $4bn bridge to Bahrain and the Doha Metro are likely to be fast-tracked by the World Cup. Qatar welcomes around 1mn visitors a year according to FIFA’s Bid Evaluation Report, but must gear up to cater for much larger numbers during the World Cup. More than 300,000 fans visited South Africa over the four-week period of the 2010 World Cup, FIFA said. Geoff Leffek, Hyder Consulting’s regional rail director in Dubai, said the Doha Metro will throw up the trickiest recruitment challenges. “When you are talking about track work, power systems and signalling then you’re dealing with a small talent pool,” said Leffek. “If the projects go ahead on the timelines that are understood at the moment then we could see pinch points where there isn’t enough engineering resource to go around, which will probably mean the cost of engineering will go up.” Large-scale sporting infrastructure projects - like the London 2012 Olympics - are often built to tight deadlines, leading to speculation they won’t be completed in time and they’ll exceed the budget. But Qatar presents even greater challenges because of the scale and scope of what is planned and the level of investment that is needed, experts say, including a complete revamp of its transport system. Furthermore, Qatar’s nature-beating solar powered air-conditioning systems, that aim to keep players and fans cool at 27 degrees Celsius or less in searing summer temperatures, are commercially untested. In its Bid Evaluation Report FIFA has marked the cooling technology as posing a “high” operational risk. Other unique challenges facing the country include a requirement to import nearly all of its building materials and equipment like concrete, cranes and piling rigs - leading to a potential supply constraints, consultants say. “In this region virtually all materials are imported,” said Leffek at Hyder, who said his company was pursuing a number of opportunities in Qatar but declined to comment further. “You’re bringing in concrete, steel, and specialised materials that come in by ship and they could be held up at customs and [then] you have physical constraints on various parts of the supply chain.” “Everybody will be asking for building materials at the same time, so prices are going to go up,” said Summers at Aedas. “Anyone who is a supplier in Qatar over the next 10 years is going to do very well.”