Costain is considering expanding its presence in the Gulf to include highways, marine, water and wastewater work – but only in Abu Dhabi.

The proposal is understood to be contained in the firm’s draft business plan for the next three years, and was made by Andrew Wyllie, Costain’s chief executive, and Stephen Wells, its strategy and business development director. The board is discussing it and could give the green light by the end of the first quarter of 2009.

Two years ago, Wyllie shut Costain’s international division, including offices in Dubai, in favour of running international projects from the firm’s core sector arms. But Wells said Abu Dhabi’s reputation as a growing economy had forced it to rethink its strategy in the region.

He said: “It’s better to concentrate on an emerging market like Abu Dhabi rather than Dubai where there are already a lot of contractors. Abu Dhabi has got a masterplan that’s very comprehensive.”

At the moment, the firm only carries out oil and gas projects in Abu Dhabi under its COGAP operations. It employs about 1,000 people in the region – including site workers. Wells said he expected some UK staff to transfer to Abu Dhabi if the move goes ahead.