War of words on whether UK firms should export staff to Middle East, and award-winning architect slams Dubai’s environmental record

Building reports two contrasting attitudes to going global to escape the credit crunch. First, Laing O’Rourke is planning to double its staff in the Middle East by adding another 4000, by recruiting worldwide as well as from the UK.

“If people have the skills, the experience and the ambition, then our message is to step this way,” said Toby McGuire, Laing O’Rourke’s head of communications.

The contractor’s turnover in the Middle East rose 23.8% last year to £420m, almost 10% of global sales. It has formed a joint venture with an Abu Dhabi property development, and is jointly working on the £10bn Al Raha beach development.

But consultant Waterman Partnership said that it would not be following the example of Davis Langdon and others in sending UK staff out to the Middle East.

Chief executive Nick Taylor said: “Shifting herds of people across the globe is a knee-jerk reaction to what’s happening in the market. The problem is staff will only stay with you three or four years before moving on. Then you’ve got upfront costs like a year’s rent in advance, and problems with people leaving their families behind.”

Waterman was announcing increases in turnover and pre-tax profit, largely driven by overseas growth. It currently has around 200 staff in the Middle East, and does as much of the actual work as possible from its UK and Australia offices.

The difference of opinion coincided with the Cityscape Dubai property conference, attended by 40 000 delegates. Developers unveiled the next wave of mega-projects, including Nakheel’s plan for a 1km tall skyscraper.

But Building Design reports that Pritzker prize-winning US architect Thom Mayne used his conference speech to warn that Dubai was becoming an “ecological disaster.”

Mayne said: “It’s not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological. The political class is no longer in charge… which means there is no planning. The private sector rules.”