Jeddah 'will completely change' in next decade

Delegates at the Construction Week Jeddah Infrastructure conference told that the city faces major challenges as it grows over the next 10 years

NEWS, Projects

As the Gateway to the Two Holy Mosques‚ Jeddah is also major city in its own right, with more than 3.4 million residents, making it the second largest city in KSA.

The Jeddah Strategic Plan aims to blend the city’s historic culture with growing demands for improved infrastructure which will support economic development, improve social welfare and enhance quality of life.

“There are 3.4 million Jeddah residents and last year, during Hajj, Jeddah attracted over six million visitors in one week. In 10 years’ time, this is expected to double,” said event chairman Sameer Daoud, Managing Director, ARCADIS ME, and later asked, “How can we logistically cope with this?” There were no easy answers.

Sheikh Solaiman Elkhereiji, Chairman, SAK Consultants, said that in 1973, Jeddah was built and designed based on a population of 1.3 million. “We are almost triple that and we should study ways to meet that based on current pace of projects and future projections. Unfortunately, resources are stretched and we lack manpower to evaluate the growth and anticipate transport, water consumption and wastewater needs,” Elkhereiji said.

Adel Jemah, VP of Hill International described it as a race between growth and demand. “Growth and demand is ahead of what is available as far as infrastructure like expressways, public transport, railways, schools and hospitals. We have a duty as engineers, consultants and authorities, to catch up,” Jemah opined. 

Usama Shehatah, General Director of Slum Areas Development JDURC, said that dealing with high demand is a collective responsibility between authorities and the private sector. “Amana Mohafazet has the Jeddah Strategic Plan for the structural transformation of the city up to 2030, when the population reaches 6.2 million. Projects like the King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAIA), metro and public transport projects, mega mixed use developments are part and parcel of the final design plans,” he said adding “We will see a complete transformation of Jeddah in the next 5-10 years.”

Following 21 years in the public sector and now 10 years in the private sector, Shehatah has for the past 6 years been working in JDURC. “JDURC is the first development company in the Kingdom to be working on the basis of Public Private Partnership (PPP). It’s the economical arm of Amana, part of the ministry of rural affairs. We are tasked with the regeneration of slum areas, which is an amazing new direction for the government,” Shehatah said.

The Jeddah Strategic Plan is a high density development that runs along a North/South axis, but does it neglect East West directions? Not when you mention Wadi al Asla, one of JDURC’s mega projects, being located on a vast undeveloped area of approximately 132 km², including the Briman Lake – an artificial sewage water lake. JDURC intends to remediate the lake, address the existing environmental conditions and develop the whole area into a “Green Belt”. “It goes towards the East of Jeddah. We have a PPP there to develop 22km2 of housing projects, creating room for direct investments and developments,” said Shehatah. It’s a big project that includes 1 million m2 for a King Abdul Aziz University research centre and another 2 million m2 development split equally between Al Ahli and Etihad clubs to build their own tracks over there. “It’s mixed use all the way and taking Jeddah towards the East. The north development of Jeddah has reached the Dhaban, now becoming part of Jeddah. We as well have industrial projects towards the East.”

Jemah pointed to important challenges facing projects. “If we want to catch up with demand and growth, we need not worry about completing projects some of which are frozen, while others are delayed arising from various issues, forcing us to go back to the drawing board, compounded by approvals taking a long time to arrive.”

Elkhereiji pointed that a coordination committee was established by officials in the 70’s. “Today we need it more than ever. We see delays, suspension of licenses, rules on labour but not much in the form of coordination. Coordination saves money for everybody and we need to make it a better environment for people to come, work and do business in Jeddah.”

Jemah said that there wasn’t enough time to execute projects and make changes. “Tight project schedules are often unreasonable. 95% of projects are delayed because of that.” Shehatah said delays are different in nature, ranging from inefficient services, to project complexity, level of project management know-how and missing data. “Foundation work for an empty piece of land is often easier than excavating a 500 meters long section of a road might which lead to insurmountable challenges as we are not sure what we may encounter in terms of water, telephone or other utilities with as-built databases being old or outdated. Amanah is working hard on changing that but it’s a long process.”

Shehatah said it’s all part of social responsibility and awareness. “No one can work alone or we won’t finish in 100 years. We need a very strong media plan to raise awareness for all participants to work as a team and it’s why the government announced this partnership with the private sector.” He said the image of the private sector is one that aims to make profits while the government’s is one to enforce rules and regulations. “They should sit together around a roundtable to make plans. It’s not the case now, but this is what started with JDRC.”

In addition to having regulatory powers, the public sector has supervisory and enforcement authorities. What it lacks is financial freedom. Government agencies have the finance ministry to answer to and they cannot move freely being tied to so many regulations. The private sector on the other hand is known for quality, productivity and funding freedom. “Positive issues in the private sector are the negative ones in the public sector and vice versa. If we have a firm that has the powers of both the government and the private sector, then it’s perfect. This is JDRC and it’s the way of the future for the Kingdom,” explains Shehatah.

Currently there are three “firms” that are PPP in form and substance. “JDRC is the 1st, but in Mekkah we have Al Balad al Ameen, and Medina already has approval for a similar setup,” Shehatah said adding, “By mid 2016, there will be nine companies in the kingdom born out of similar municipality setups. It’s one of the solutions to drive for faster pace and better quality, while reducing the pressure on the finance ministry.”

These types of public/private collaboration and partnership models will also generate creative concepts born out of learned lessons and shared know-how. Jemah said authorities are ignoring certain aspects of tourism that Jeddah can benefit from, especially when good weather there lasts at least 6 months of the year, during which weather in other parts of the world are gloomy. “We could exploit this but I don’t find walks and developments around sandy beaches, like JBR did in Dubai and I don’t see why we can’t preserve our cultures while bring important resources to citizens through tourism,” he said. “I welcome a good discussion on this.”

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