Leaders Oman: Effective planning in the Sultanate
Experts from the Port of Sohar and Hoehler & Partner call for a joined-up planning process in the Sultanate
A number of speakers at the Muscat summit noted that Oman has not yet done enough to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. But rather than being levelled as downbeat criticisms, these arguments tended to be framed within the context of future opportunities.
One non-oil-related field in which the Sultanate appears to be excelling is that of social infrastructure. Efforts to strengthen the country’s status as a maritime powerhouse are ongoing, and investment is simultaneously being channelled into affordable housing, healthcare, and education projects.
However, for every opportunity that comes with a master-planned megaproject, you will most probably find a design-related challenge to match. The success of large-scale horizontal projects such as ports, residential communities, and universities rests on effective planning. And as Mahdi Al Lawatia, manager of assets development at the Port of Sohar (pictured below), and Muhammad Sultan Al Salmy, managing partner at Hoehler & Partner explained, achieving this situation is no mean feat.
Al Salmy told delegates that architectural and engineering consultancy, Hoehler & Partner, has encountered numerous challenges caused by a dearth of communication between stakeholders in Oman. He explained: “Planning is totally missing in some [areas]; I would start with Muscat. We had a project that involved the demolition of a building, for example. [Hoehler & Partner was] enlisted to support the redevelopment of the site. We found that there was an electricity line present and nobody knew how it got there.
“The problem is that we don’t have an organisation through which people can come together and access a [unified] system. Everybody is acting on their own. There is no single organisation to bring everything together.
“I think that an authority to bring all of these [stakeholders] together would help both consultants and contractors operating in Oman. It would also benefit investors, whether governmental or private in nature,” Al Salmy explained.
Al Lawatia was in full agreement with Al Salmy on this point, stating: “Tools such as geographic information systems (GIS) are [effective] when it comes to individual, large-scale projects like the Port of Sohar. With just one of these, you are okay – you can plan ahead and work well. But [with multiple projects], you will face problems.
“If the government were to come through with [planning-related] recommendations, they would be most welcome,” he told attendees.
Al Salmy concluded: “These are the issues that we must overcome [when] working on such large projects. It goes back to the Tender Board; I don’t think it has the manpower or capabilities to deal with such big projects. I’m not criticising [the body],” he added, emphasising that it is purely a question of resources.