Tripoli has announced a bold $54bn initiative to turn the Gulf of Sirte into an industrial hub in a bid to create thousands of jobs and attract multi-billion-dollar investments from major international companies.

The development of the oil-export towns of Marsa el-Brega and Ras Lanuf into ‘energy cities’ – industrial clusters based around oil and gas processing and distribution facilities – was two years in the planning, and will take 20 years to execute.

The scheme includes new petrochemicals production, power stations and oil refineries, along with a major holiday resort, all of which are to be developed in joint ventures with foreign companies.

One of the key recommendations from the developer of the masterplan for the scheme, US engineering company Fluor Corporation, is that major reforms are undertaken to make Libya’s business environment more attractive.

Libya has been a notoriously difficult arena for business in the past, and nearly two decades of US-imposed trade embargoes between 1986 and 2004 have helped make it an unknown quantity for many international companies. It will come as welcome news, then, that Fluor’s recommendations have been taken on board.

The developer of the project, the state-run Economic & Social Development Fund, will take over control of the downstream oil and gas industry to make the development of new projects easier, easing fears that state energy firm National Oil Corporation (NOC) would interfere unduly in the energy cities.

Libya’s development agency, the Economic Development Board, is also involved in the scheme, and says it will work with the gov-ernment to make the country as attractive as possible to investors, with tax incentives a high priority.

If the two government bodies can make the necessary reforms work, the energy cities development could be the catalyst needed to kick start the country’s feeble private sector.