Douglas to lead Abu Dhabi's new megaport

Former Laing O'Rourke executive moves east to oversee Emirate's port development programme

Tony Douglas, the construction boss who built Heathrow's celebrated Terminal Five, is to oversee the development of what is, in effect, a massive new industrial city near Abu Dhabi.

Mr Douglas starts tomorrow as chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC). The major project is the Khalifa Port, the first phase of which will be built by 2012 for an estimated £4.9bn.

Surrounding the port, huge industrial and residential zones will be developed on a site in excess of 400 sq km. Mr Douglas will manage the construction of an area that is the equivalent of combining Southampton and Portsmouth and all the space between.

Analysts believe that the final price tag of the project could run into the hundreds of billions, and it will be the main economic driver of the fast-expanding country. The site is about halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, its struggling neighbouring Emirate, at Al Taweelah.

The British construction industry has eagerly awaited Mr Douglas's re-emergence after his departure from Laing O'Rourke last year. Mr Douglas was chief operating officer of the UK's biggest privately-owned construction group and was expected to become chief executive.

However, incumbent Ray O'Rourke decided to stay on as the recession started to hit. Mr Douglas, who was previously managing director of Heathrow airport for operator BAA, decided to move on last November.

He is believed to have received a number of approaches in the UK and became a non-executive director at demolition contractor Keltbray in March. The Abu Dhabi job, however, was the most substantial offer, as it will create one of the biggest port developments in the world.

ADPC is developing nine ports, though Khalifa is the major project. Mr Douglas said: "I am particularly excited to be invited to join ADPC at this key stage in the group's development. I am looking forward to the challenge immensely." His chairman, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, said he was "thrilled" by the appointment.

ADPC was established four years ago to restructure Abu Dhabi's commercial ports sector.

Mr Douglas has knowledge of working practices in the United Arab Emirates from his time at Laing O'Rourke. The construction group, which is the UK's third biggest when listed rivals are included, has an annual turnover in the Middle East of more than £800m. Laing O'Rourke started working in the region in 2006. Its major projects in the region include the £950m Atlantis hotel in Dubai which opened in late 2008, and the $14.7bn Al Raha beach development in Abu Dhabi.

Many British construction firms have expanded into the region in recent years to replace the fall in domestic private-sector work. In the UK they have largely relied on the public sector for contracts. However, the recent emergency Budget cuts are likely to hit the sector hard, with the Construction Products Association, an industry body, suggesting that the £107bn industry could lose one-fifth of its revenue.

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