JLT: Rough diamond

Lower rent and proximity to Dubai Marina and the Metro make Jumeirah Lakes Towers attractive, but with construction still under way, shops and services can be hard to find.

Lower rent and proximity to Dubai Marina and the Metro make Jumeirah Lakes Towers attractive, but with construction still under way, shops and services can be hard to find, Eugene Harnan says From a distance, Jumeirah Lakes Towers is a futuristic-looking metropolis. Up close, say its residents, it's dusty and unfinished. While many of the planned 87 mixed-use towers in JLT (as it is universally known) are nearing completion, there are still a lot with scaffolding and half-finished cladding.

"We moved here because the rents were good at the time," says Pratik Shaman, a 36-year-old Indian who pays Dh65,000 a year for the two-bedroom flat he lives in with his wife and their three-year-old son. "We would have paid double for an apartment half the size across the road in the Marina." Despite the disadvantages of its being unfinished, he says, the neighbourhood has improved greatly compared with when they first moved in. "There were no shops, supermarkets or services. Some restaurants even refused to deliver food. It now has a feeling of a lot done - but more to do. There is still no supermarket."

Split into "clusters", each comprising three towers, JLT only last month celebrated a minor milestone when it completed the "S" residential cluster close to the footbridge that leads to Dubai Marina Metro station. The first of 26 similar phases, S-cluster will eventually be home to about 1,400 residents, according to Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre Authority (DMCCA), the master developer. While many of the towers elsewhere in the development have also been finished and are occupied, the announcement of S-cluster's completion signifies that retail and landscaping are also finished. It gives the residents of other clusters a good idea of what they can expect.

JLT has been planned as a business free zone, aiming to be the diamond-trading centre not only of the UAE but of the whole region. It is home to Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre, which moved into Almas Tower; believed to be the country's second tallest tower at 360 metres. There is a diamond exchange on the second floor and a diamond vault in the basement. JLT's first hotel, The Bonnington, opened a few months ago and The Mövenpick is due to open next year. Two more hotels are planned, as well as shops, restaurants and a "dynamic waterfront lifestyle" according to the development's website.

But the waterfront so far, according to residents, is far from the sought-after image that was portrayed in the brochures. "The water levels have been dropping for the last few months," says Shaman. According to those in the northern section of JLT, the opening of Dubai Marina Metro station gave the neighbourhood a real boost - making access to the rest of the city much more efficient, as well as opening up the better-developed Marina to them, now within a five- to 10-minute walk. However, those in the southern section say they are disappointed that JLT station is one of the few on the Red Line still not operating, even though it looks finished. Nevertheless, they express delight at being able to use the station's pedestrian overbridge to reach the Marina.

Stephen Gorman, a 27-year-old media buyer, moved to JLT early last year, taking advantage of the low rents. "There's a real young professional buzz to the place now. There was nothing to do around here but the buildings are really nice. It is only now that I see small shops and coffee shops opening around the other buildings." In common with many residents, he complains about traffic delays getting in and out of JLT in the mornings and evenings. Part of the problem is that the six-lane road that encircles the entire development goes only in one direction and feeds into just two small slip roads onto the highway. "When I want to get out in the mornings it takes me at least 15 minutes. If it was a two-way road, I'd be on the highway in two minutes," says Gorman. "I was told by the letting agent that the one-way road direction was temporary but, nearly two years later, it still has cement trucks all going in the one direction."

One resident, who asked not to be named, says JLT's location outweighs that frustration. "I work in Abu Dhabi and don't have to face the traffic past the Marina area, which is often quite heavy. I have friends who live in Old Town, and it can take them 45 minutes longer to get home." Residents all say that life in JLT has improved greatly. "At first, it had no internet and taxis were always really difficult to get because they didn't even know this place existed. When we phoned, they wouldn't know the tower and when I said JLT, they'd end up across in the Marina in JBR," says Gorman. "There are more taxis now, there are things opening up - but it still feels a million miles away from the Marina, which is only across the road."

Although Gorman now wants to move, he thinks JLT can only get better. "They are still working on the towers, which is a good sign, the metro has helped link [us] to the rest of the city and we can now walk over to the Marina. Living here depends on what you make of it."

Pratik Shaman, India The best thing about JLT is the size of the apartments. We wouldn't get anything like this anywhere else. It looks finished but it is far from it. Everything is covered in sand and dust; we have to drive between ­cement trucks at all hours of the day and there is nowhere for the kids to play outside. There is a constant plume of dust in the air with all the construction activity." John McBain, USA "I live in a building developed by Deyaar, have rented it for about 15 months now, and love it, mostly because of its size and the view: I can see the Gulf, Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab. Plus, it is huge - almost 3,000 square feet - and it's great for entertaining. I hardly ever spend any time outside here, though, and have yet to use the Metro, despite it being 200 feet away from my building.To be honest, it is as if I live on a giant construction site; but I'm hoping things continue construction-wise and it will soon be more amenable to go walking around the neighbourhood."

Housing Prices vary widely ­according to the apartment's size and amenities. Annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment is Dh50,000-80,000; for a two-bedroom Dh65,000-115,000; and for a three-bedroom Dh90,000-135,000, according to the Dubai office of Allsop & Allsop. Schools There are no schools within the neighbourhood but several international schools are nearby, including Wellington International School in Al Sufouh, Regent International School in The Greens, Dubai British School in The Springs and The Winchester School in The Gardens. Medical facilities Welcare Ambulatory Centre in Knowledge Village has a walk-in facility. Jebel Ali ­Hospital is near Ibn Battuta Mall, 10-15 minutes away. Amenities Local shops have begun to open but are still quite scarce. Ibn Battuta Mall is a 10-minute drive and Dubai Marina Mall and Almaya 24-hour supermarket are directly opposite JLT, across Sheikh Zayed Road.