$11bn Gulf rail scheme set to award second phase contracts

$11bn Gulf rail scheme set to award second phase contracts

Etihad Rail, the state-owned client that is responsible for the United Arab Emirates’ $11bn contribution to the rail network that is to link all the Gulf states, is about to award contracts for the second phase of its construction programme.

Saif al-Mazrouei, Etihad’s acting chief executive, told reporters, “We’re ready to award them. It’s in finalising stages for funding from the government.”

The second phase, which at 628km is the longest of the three, is expected to be funded by the UAE federal government, Mazrouei said. He declined to give costs for the project.

The Phase 2 project will connect the Mussafah port and industrial area and ports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai with the Omani border.

A consortium comprising Italy’s Saipem and Maire Tecnimont and UAE-based Dodsai Engineering and Construction was awarded the main civil and track works contract for phase one.

Earlier this year Etihad Rail created a joint venture with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to operate the railway and act as consultant for the other stages.

It was announced at the end of last month that the UAE’s armed forces were to be used to protect stations and depots across the Etihad network.Â

Lithuania hopes new terminal will break Russian

Lithuania is rushing to complete its first liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal at the port of Klaipeda in order to end its total dependence on Russian gas.

On Thursday last week the Baltic state signed an LNG purchase deal with Norway’s state-owned oil and gas supplier, Statoil, for the supply of 540 million cubic metres of gas per year starting in 2015.

The ship will receive gas by tanker and regasify it for distribution via a new pipeline network around Lithuania and beyond.

“It is a historic day for Lithuania,” said the country’s president, Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—, at the ship’s launch, adding that, “no one ever will blackmail us over gas prices or influence, through energy, our political or economic life.”

Norwegian gas will not necessarily be cheaper than Russia’s when it starts flowing on the scheduled date of 1 January 2015. The price will be linked to the UK’s gas trading index, the NBP, and Lithuanian gas trading company Litgas said that based on the last four months’ prices, it could expect to pay around $382 per 1,000 cubic metres.

On Thursday Litgas said it had entered into 12 non-binding purchase agreements with other suppliers that would enable it to buy gas on the global spot market.

“This strategic contract will help to ensure the availability of an alternative natural gas import source which will enable us and other Lithuanian companies to procure natural gas on international markets from various suppliers at any time,” said Dominykas Tučkus, general manager of Litgas.

Welcome to Uxcester, the imaginary city that has British

At the beginning of September, a blueprint for delivering a new generation of “garden cities” in the UK won the Wolfson Economics Prize.

It may not be widely known outside the UK but the prize did net its winner, the urban planner David Rudlin, of the consultancy URBED, just over $408,000 (£250,000), which makes it the second most lucrative economics prize after the Nobel.

Originally intended to prevent unsightly urban sprawl, green belts around English cities and towns have been blamed for blocking development and keeping house prices artificially high while protecting under-used agricultural land that has low ecological value.

And with around 65% of people in England and Wales owning their own home – and benefitting from rising house prices – successive governments have avoided changing the status quo.

On 4 September judges chose the Uxcester scheme (it’s pronounced “USS-ter”), with Wolfson calling it a “tour de force of economic and financial analysis, creative thinking and bold, daring ideas”. Why did they like it so much?

“In the face of this failure our response has tended to be that it is probably better not to build than to build badly. Local people – branded as NIMBYs – have come to see new housing as a threat and the planning system has become fraught with conflict. The result is that we are building half the homes that we need.”Â

Central to Rudlin’s proposition is a ‘social contract’ with the people of Uxcester, which sets up a win-win scenario for everyone. Its clauses could include:

  1. For every acre of green belt developed, another will become public open space. This is interesting because, as is the case with many small cities, the green belt around Uxcester is farmland that is neither accessible to the public nor has it much of what Rudlin terms “ecological value”. So for every hectare set aside for buildings and roads, another is given back to the city as public space, forests, lakes and country parks.
  2. The new developments won’t wreck the established setting of the city. Three triangular developments will ease their thinnest angle into the centre just enough to make the necessary infrastructure links, while the green views of edge-of-town residents will be preserved.
  3. They will have great public transport infrastructure that increases mobility for the whole city, without doubling traffic, and they’ll broaden housing choice and affordability for everyone.

Walkable, busable, doable

To minimise increases in road traffic, Rudlin aimed to make walking, cycling and public transport the most convenient and economic ways of getting around. The neighbourhoods are served by bus and tram and the stop at the heart of each sub-neighbourhood is never more than 15 minutes’ ride from Uxcester town centre. The sub-neighbourhoods are 800m in diameter – a 10-minute walk across, so you are never more than a five-minute walk from a bus or tram stop.Â

Working with a large, low-interest loan from the government, the Uxcester Garden City Trust buys the land from the farmers at a per-hectare rate that reflects its current market value, with some added on to reflect its value once developed. This rate will be less than what the farmer might hope for if he or she gets lucky under the current long-winded, conflictual and risky planning system. But the farmer also holds tradeable shares in the trust so, after selling the land, he or she receives dividends as the land is developed and increases in value.

Rejected out of hand

Rudlin believes that there are up to 40 cities like Uxcester in the UK and that doubling them in size could add around three million new homes. Not surprisingly, his ideas have provoked controversy.

Perhaps because Wolfson is a prominent Conservative Party peer whose enthusiasms might be confused with party policy, the Conservative housing minister Brandon Lewis took the remarkable step of rejecting Rudlin’s vision out of hand on the very day it was announced as winner of the prize.Â

One ‘myth’ they want to bust is the idea that there are enough urban brownfield site available to build on without tarnishing green belts. “Given that current demographic and population forecasts indicate 240,000 new homes will be required each year up to 2031,” says the document, “even if all these sites could be developed, they would provide land only for six years of supply.”

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