The demand for such developments – the largest of which is a £1bn paradise island scheme off the coast of Dubai – has been triggered by a new wave of local consumerism and the growing popularity of the region as a tourist destination. But what makes this boom intriguing is that the money is coming from Gulf and Saudi investors, retreating from the USA in the post-September 11 antipathy and increased financial scrutiny that followed the Enron scandal.
The boom may not last, of course. A decision over whether to attack Iraq is expected within weeks, so military planners can orchestrate an invasion in early 2003. The western airbases in Qatar, Bahrain and Oman will inevitably draw the Gulf states into the conflict. Developers insist that even war won't stymie investment – although it will certainly wreck tourism for a while.
UK firms are nervous about piling into the region as they did 30 years ago, and the threat of conflict isn't the only reason. Car bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia have made expats jumpy about anti-western sentiment. And then there are the financial risks. In the early-1970s, Laing and Wimpey were benefiting from the Shah's grandiose plans to revamp Iran; by the end of the decade, the economy was in ruins and the Shah was ousted, taking UK firms' ambitions with him.
Design and construction in the Gulf isn't easy at the best of times. Clients haven't heard of partnering; the lowest price wins, and costs are cut to the quick. Nor do UK firms enjoy the head start that their old imperial ties once afforded. But for all that, it is possible to succeed, as quantity surveyor DG Jones has shown. In the end, fortune may well favour the brave.
The retention wall crumbles
Bravo to fit-out contractor Overbury for its bold decision to abolish retentions. After similar steps by BAA, Tesco, and John Lewis, the industry is inexorably moving towards the eradication of this antediluvian practice. As we have long argued, the arbitrary withholding of 5% of the contract sum to cover possible defects is utterly at odds with attempts to integrate the supply chain and engender greater trust. No buyer of cars or computers has that luxury, and nor should building owners. Subcontractors, whose cashflow is hit hardest by retention, have fought a vigorous campaign for outright abolition. And with support growing among MPs, and the trade and industry select committee scrutinising the issue, they may soon get their way. But if other contractors follow Overbury's lead, there won't be any need for legislation.