Monaco €1 billion reclamation plan for luxury homes district

Monaco, the tiny principality surrounded on three sides by France and bearing a name synomous with glamour and wealth, has growth on its mind.

Monaco plans to reclaim six hectares of land from the Mediterranean to build a new district of luxury apartment blocks, shops and offices. Patrice Coppee / AFP
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Monaco, the tiny principality surrounded on three sides by France and bearing a name synonymous with glamour and wealth, has growth on its mind.

Long accustomed to punching above its weight, the city-state is planning to become bigger in the best way it can: out to sea.

The government of Prince Albert II, the reigning monarch and head of state, is inviting bids for a new district of luxury apartment blocks, shops and offices to occupy a six-hectare site that currently belongs to the Mediterranean.

With 36,000 inhabitants squeezed onto a land mass just two kilometres square, Monaco is listed on the basis of census and other official statistics as the world's most densely populated country. Lying 13km from Nice and, from its centre, 16km from the Italian border, it is also the smallest, in land size, with the exception of Vatican City.

The compact, layered nature of the existing urban development of Monte Carlo, the main residential, business and resort area, offers little remaining space for new construction. For a new building to rise, an old one generally has to be demolished. Otherwise, government officials say, building higher is not possible and would, in any case, be aesthetically unwelcome.

Monaco is not alone around the world in looking to oceans, lakes and riverbeds as potential new surfaces for building land. From the Abu Dhabi Corniche and Dubai's World islands project to large sections of Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong, developments already provide - or will in the future - much-needed space for construction.

The cost of Monaco's new reclamation project is estimated at €1 billion (Dh4.76bn) but since this takes no account of superstructure including buildings, roads and service, the final figure is likely to be several times higher.

The winning candidate will assume responsibility for the financing, design and implementation of the development.

Competing bids must be submitted by July 23 and meet environmentally friendly criteria. The government has set a target of 2024 for work to be complete.

The newly reclaimed land will replace what is now an offshore area close to the Grimaldi Forum, a concert hall and conference centre named after the Genoese dynasty that has ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since the end of the 13th century.

Monaco's government says it will insist on the most rigorous environmental standards with "sustainable urban design" its guiding principle.

For example, vehicles will have access but arrangements for pedestrians and cyclists will be given priority over those for motorised transport.

The blocks of apartments will be restricted to six to 10 storeys with private gardens and public open spaces.

Monaco envisaged an even bigger reclamation project in 2008 but plans were shelved because of the worldwide financial crisis and, it is believed, doubts over whether they fully met "green" concerns. The total cost of the aborted plan, which would have provided residential accommodation for 3,000 people, was put at €11bn, although it would have covered an area twice as large as in the current proposals.

A detailed environmental impact assessment will be carried out as part of preparations for the new project, with the aim of avoiding damage to adjoining marine conservation areas.

An eight-page document published by the state of Monaco describes a "comprehensive urban plan" to extend national territory to the right of an area known as the Anse du Portier.

It says the principality is fully committed to "strong sustainable development and environmental protection".

The government promises "strong constraints" to ensure respect for the marine reserves as well as sustainable energy management and waste disposal.

Prince Albert says he decided on the location and scope of the land extension after studying various proposals since 2008. The chosen scheme will increase Monaco territory by 3 per cent.

"I will pay particular attention to ensure the project respects the strict environmental rules that I will impose, during the construction as well as during the use of the new surfaces created," the ruler told the daily newspaper Monaco-Matin.

In addition to the environmental impact assessment, there will be obligation on the successful bidder to conduct an "eco-district, eco-designed" and governed by a rigorous environmental management system for all buildings and public spaces.

The government says the aim is for the coastline to retain a "qualitative and contemporary image in accordance with the state's landscape and urban identity".

Even before the abandoned plan of 2008, Monaco was familiar with the process of reclamation. Prince Albert's father, Rainier III, the husband of Princess Grace, was nicknamed the "builder prince" after he resorted to such methods, encouraging huge schemes to overcome the principality's inability to extend into France.

The first major project was the Larvotto beach district in a popular residential and tourist area of Monte Carlo in the 1960s.

In the following decade, reclamation led to the creation of the entire Fontvielle area increasing the country's land surface by a fifth.

Visitors to Monaco are also familiar with the expansion of the renowned Port Hercules, a setting for the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, to enable it to accommodate giant cruise ships and new premises for the Monaco Yacht Club, designed by the British architect Lord Norman Foster and officially due to open next year.

The government has insisted the further extension should end 400 metres from the coastline. It has stipulated low heights for the buildings in the interests of style but also to preserve the sea views from properties on the Avenue Princesse-Grace.

Under the previous plan for reclamation, Fontveille would have grown still larger.

The project as now presented by the government opts instead for further expansion at Larvotto, which offers the advantages of a flatter, shallower seabed.

The Relevance Web Marketing agency, which includes the French Riviera among its bases, says the development will "breathe fresh life into the beach district", presenting opportunities to Monaco property companies and creating jobs in development, construction and leisure.

The agency also describes the plans as a "welcome boon for inhabitants in the micro-state", with limited building capacity meaning some 350,000 square metres of land needs to be found per decade to meet the needs of a growing population.