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Middle East still luring UK contractors

UK contractors are continuing to have success in the Middle East despite the financial problems in debt-laden Dubai.

A focus on neighbouring states during the downturn has seen significant growth in areas such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

PC Harrington chairman Pat Harrington told CN this week that he believes the firm can increase its Middle East turnover significantly, mainly through plant and crane hire.

Several UK contractors - including Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Vinci subsidiary Taylor Woodrow - are keen to be part of the burgeoning construction industry in the region.

Interserve, the UK’s sixth largest contractor, has won about £100 million of new contracts in Qatar since January this year.

These include the design and build of two energy centres to power the new Education City outside Doha, as well as the design and build of nine substations for Siemens worth £55m.

At a conference in Hong Kong this week, senior lecturer at The British University in Dubai Dr Mohammed Dulaimi said: “Despite the recent downturn of construction activities in Dubai, construction remains a very strong sector in the Middle East as the industry is estimated to be worth $1.6 trillion (£1.1tn).

“In 2010, construction projects in the entire Middle East region amount to $726 billion.”

He added: “The UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, remain strong, with each country contributing about 30 per cent of the total construction volume in the entire region this year.”

UK Trade and Investment has called on infrastructure firms to explore the multi-billion pound opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

With six new cities under construction, the country now has the largest construction market in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, at a conference in London this week, representatives from Kurdistan - a semi-autonomous region in the north-east corner of Iraq - reported a booming domestic economy, particularly in the retail and construction sectors.

Laing O’Rourke this week denied reports that it is planning to close its Middle East division due to the global downturn.

A spokesman for the UK’s third largest contractor said such claims held “no truth whatsoever”.