Halcrow's Middle East managing director reveals the firm's strategies for Saudi and Syria

David Yaw
David Yaw

A lot of firms seem to be looking at the Middle East. Is that the right thing to do?

The streets are not paved with gold. It's still a robust market but it is definitely slowing. It will not provide a complete answer to the problems elsewhere.

Everybody seems to think the UAE is the Middle East

We work from Pakistan across to Libya and Iran down to Yemen. A lot of people are concentrated in the UAE but we're looking at other areas, Saudi Arabia and Libya in particular.

What is the potential of those countries?

Saudi is bigger than the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait put together. Both Saudi and Libya have burgeoning populations and they need their infrastructure to keep up. Saudi is building a lot of industry and the downstream work that goes with it. There is a big demand for power and water out there.

Can expats live there?

Saudi and Libya don't have the infrastructure yet to receive the expats. I think one of those issues as well is the image of these two countries. We're looking at servicing them from our offices in the Gulf or in Damascus in Syria. In Damascus, it's easy to get well-educated Arabic speakers because you need dual language speakers for those two countries.

What's Pakistan like?

We have offices in Karachi and Islamabad where we do a lot of design for infrastructure out there. In Pakistan, we only tend to work with the private sector.

Are the Gulf states creaking at the seams?

Abu Dhabi and Qatar have set their budgets on modest oil and gas prices. Some of the big clients are reviewing their priorities and it's been put to us that the nice-to-haves such as museums and cultural facilities might be postponed a year but the essentials will still happen.

Do Abu Dhabi and Qatar seem well positioned to weather the downturn?

Both are wealthy states and they have huge sovereign wealth. Abu Dhabi has oil and Qatar gas. They have been more conservative in launching their developments plans than Dubai.

Dubai's is real trouble, right?

I certainly don't see Dubai as falling off a cliff, but it is slowing down and people are uncertain. Because it's been so successful for so long, people are concerned. Dubai's feeling the correction in the speculative, high-rise residential market.

Is that the only area where it's suffering?

The main development in Dubai has been driven by commercial, residential and tourism. Some future proposals are being put back but there is still a lot of infrastructure work such as highways, bridges and ports.