The founder of a company that wants to bring floating homes to the UAE says it is in talks with the owner of an island at Nakheel’s The World project to cluster the homes around its shores and use their excess solar electricity to generate an eco-resort.

“With 20 units around an island you could easily create a sustainable eco-resort,” said Berend Lens van Rijn, whose company Belevari Marine is the exclusive seller in the UAE of Dutch-made Waterlovt floating homes.

The World Islands is an artificial archipelago of 300 islands from reclaimed land developed by Nakheel between 2003-08. It sold 70 per cent of them before the financial crisis but hardly any have been developed, because of the cost of additional infrastructure. Thus far, Lebanon Island has been developed as a beach resort and another island has been developed by a private owner, while Kleindienst Group is bringing forward its six-island Heart of Europe project, complete with Dh9 million, two-bed Floating Seahorse villas.

“The islands have been bought for D40m, Dh50m or Dh60m, but the owners were kind of counting on Nakheel to put [in] a grid – like an electricity or sewage grid.

But that was not in the contract. So now an island owner has to pay for his own grid. That means US$15 million (Dh55.1m) minimum if you want to build your own sewage treatment plant,” Mr van Rijn said.

“Our homes, fortunately, are already producing their own power. Then we have sewage treatment plants – small units that you put on a tugboat in Holland – that biologically treat all of your waste. So you’re a zero waste, zero carbon unit.”

The roof area on a larger Waterlovt unit is capable of producing up to 40 kilowatts of solar power per hour, Mr van Rijn said. The homes are well insulated and triple-glazed, meaning air-conditioning units only require between 3-4 kilowatts per hour to run. Under his scheme, he explained, “all of the Waterlovts’ excess power goes toward the island itself, where you could create a restaurant, swimming pool and a spa. Then there would be a floating unit for access and underneath it could be an extra sewage treatment plant and a water maker for the island’s facilities.”

Mr van Rijn’s company is one of a number looking to develop water homes in the UAE.

Both his company and New Living on Water had stands at this month’s Cityscape Global in Dubai, though they are targeting different market segments. A Waterlovt floating home or office unit starts at Dh4.4m for a 180-square-metre unit, whereas New Living on Water’s luxury steel-made structures cost around $5,000 per sq m, or $10m for a 200 sq m unit.

Kleindienst’s Floating Seahorses were also on display at Cityscape. The company has sold more than 50 so far at prices between Dh9m and Dh12m.

Menno de Roos, a director of New Living on Water, told The National that he believed his units will find buyers in the UAE, although both New Living on Water and Waterlovt are still awaiting their first order here. Mr de Roos said: “Dubai is a place where these ideas are welcomed – they love these kinds of design. We believe it can work. But we have to build one – that’s the thing.”

Mr van Rijn, on the other hand, has already held talks with a number of master developers in Abu Dhabi, with a view to them purchasing units that could be used either as floating offices or restaurants.

“I’ve visited all of the developers. They are not so enthusiastic of full-time living on the water. They are all more towards commercial properties than residential.”

Yet Mr van Rijn remains confident about the prospect for residential houseboats in Abu Dhabi, and is keen to partner with a developer who can gain permission from the Urban Planning Council to build them.

“Developers need a unique selling point. The first who thinks outside the box and says ‘let’s do this’ … it’s a clever way to market their other units.”

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