Saudi Arabia plans to spend SR1.5 trillion ($400bn) on building 1.5 million homes for Saudi nationals in the next seven to eight years, the kingdom’s Housing Minister Majed al-Hogail told the 9th Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh on 26 January.

“We are inviting local and international developers (to work on the programme),” Al-Hogail said. Work on the project is due to start this year.

Al-Hogail said the housing industry will stimulate the Saudi economy and promote non-oil activities needed to offset the impact of lower oil prices.

“The housing industry could affect about 100 industries within Saudi Arabia,” Al-Hogail said. Encouragement of local building materials firms would help reduce costs.

“We could then have a very low affordable housing for our people,” Al-Hogail said.

He said estimates that there were 1.3 million unoccupied homes in the kingdom were wrong.

“There are about 990,000 unoccupied homes,” he said. “These are mainly in Mecca, Asir and Riyadh, and are (probably) second homes.”

Officials from Riyadh are in talks with various international governments and companies to assist with the building programme. A Saudi delegation has visited Turkey to explore options on how the country can implement a $240bn project to build 2 million houses in the kingdom.