Since June 2023, construction work on the Car Expo Centre project in the Al-Dweir area of Rural Damascus has stopped due to problems related to property transfer between two government entities and restraints on the disposal of some properties.
This project is the first of its kind in Syria. It will include plots designated for showrooms, industrial workshops and offices, administrative buildings, a driving school track, and recreational activities. The project extends along the Damascus-Aleppo M5 highway, covering an area of 145 hectares administratively affiliated with the Douma City Council. The urban planning of the exhibition city has been outlined according to Urban Planning Law No. 5 of 1982. Currently, work still needs to progress beyond some preparatory and primary infrastructure work.
In September 2018, the government decided to establish the project in Al-Dweir, and assigned its joint management to the governorates of Damascus and Rural Damascus, with the aim of planning, zoning, managing, and investing in the city and concentrating all professions related to car trade and manufacturing there.
The Car Expo Centre complements a separate project to zone the northern entrance of Damascus. At the end of 2018, the Damascus and Rural Damascus governorates agreed to rehabilitate and zone the north entrance of the capital city, remove informal settlements there and dismantle the old car market in the city of Harasta, which was destroyed during the fighting from 2013 to 2018.
The joint administration of the Car Expo Centre is keen on pursuing the owners of car showrooms in Harasta who have been issued demolition notices, pressuring them to close and expedite their transition to Al-Dweir. Previously, the joint administration forced showroom owners in Harasta to pledge they would not demand any compensation and to apply for plots in the Car Expo Centre in Al-Dweir if they wanted to continue in the car trade. Additionally, all car shop owners in areas warned of demolition along the northern entrance of Damascus were alerted to the necessity of applying to the new expo centre.
In June 2023, the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper reported that work on the expo centre project had stopped due to disagreements between the public companies implementing the project and the joint administration of the centre over financial dues and contracts. The newspaper confirmed that the implementing companies had withdrawn their machinery from the project site.
Faraj Al-Akka, the expo centre’s project manager, told Al-Watan at the time that the halt in work was due to the joint administration’s inability to pay the dues of the public companies implementing the project. This is because the project relies on self-financing, that is, through payments made by applicants to plots in the expo centre.
To collect payments from the applicants, it is initially necessary to complete the transfer of the project land ownership from the General Establishment for Road Transport (affiliated with the Ministry of Transport) to the joint administration of the expo centre. After that, the joint administration must divide the land into plots and allocate them to the applicants. According to the plan, there are three types of plots in the expo centre: large plots ranging from 2000-5000 square metres for large car showrooms and car assembly factories, medium-sized plots from 500-1000 square metres for new and used car sales stores, and small plots of 250 square metres for car spare parts shops.
Mr Al-Akka stated that administrative procedures are slowing down the property transfer process, and some properties have restraints on disposal. He also mentioned that there has yet to be a specific date for the completion of the property transfer process.
Hisham Hawa, the mukhtar of Douma between 1975 and 2012, told The Syria Report that the government first expropriated the lands in Al-Dweir in 1979 for the benefit of the Ministry of Defence. The Sharaf, Saleh, Burkhash and Hajjeh families from Douma and the Al-Istwani family from Damascus own these lands. A portion of these expropriated lands was used to establish military camps, some of which still exist today, as well as the Adra Central Prison near the Wafideen Camp for Palestinian refugees.
In 1992, ownership of a part of these expropriated lands was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the General Establishment for Road Transport. This portion was later allocated to establish the Auto Expo Centre project.
Therefore, the dilemma appears significant due to several public entities owning this area. The transfer of ownership between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Transport still needs to be completed, hindering the transfer process between the Ministry of Transport and the joint administration of the expo centre.
Mr Hawa explained that the reason for the complexity and delay is that some property owners previously placed restraints on disposal notes in the Land Registry after resorting to the judiciary and refusing compensation for the expropriation. He added that despite the takeovers, some of the expropriated properties designated for the expo centre are still listed in the Land Registry under the names of their original owners.