'Green' regulations hold back building permits

Five months in, the Estidama Pearl Rating System is causing delays in building approvals.

ABU DHABI // The capital's green building initiative is proving a challenge for some building consultants, delegates at a specialised forum were told yesterday.

Launched in 2010, the Estidama Pearl Rating System evaluates design plans for buildings on aspects such as electricity and water consumption, materials, fixtures and other factors, dividing them into five categories.

Since September last year, all new buildings must meet the minimum requirement, which is represented as one pearl. Government buildings face more rigorous standards and must earn a two-pearl rating. Higher ratings of three, four and five pearls are voluntary.

The new requirements have slowed down the permitting process for some developers, municipal officials said at an event organised by the Emirates Green Building Council.

In Al Ain, out of 211 applications received from mid-November last year until the middle of last week, a total of 43 received approval, said Bakhita al Shamsi, director of the building permits directorate at Al Ain Municipality. Some of the approved projects have already started tendering. "We expect them to receive their building permits in about two weeks," she added.

If a project is not approved, the consultants working on it are given feedback and required to make changes to their design. "Some of them can understand our comments from the first or second time," Ms al Shamsi said. "Others take longer."

In Abu Dhabi, about 25 per cent of all applicants had received approvals so far, said Yasmeen Saadah, an engineer who heads the Estidama team at Abu Dhabi Municipality.

Ms Saadah said problems often arose in designing ventilation systems and calculating the energy demands of a building.

Another issue was designs that featured too much clear glass, which increases demand for cooling.

She said it was mostly smaller, local companies that faced approval difficulties.

"Most of the local consultants do not have specialised engineers," she said. "Every firm should have architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, and environmental or sustainability engineers."

Jeff Willis, the council's vice chairman and director of the engineering, design and project management consultancy, Arup, said a rating of one pearl was considered international best practice. "People do not like change and having to learn," he said, adding the problem would be a short-term one and that function would start to dictate building design.