Saudi Arabia right to plan long term for economic cities

28 March 2008
Saudi Arabia’s six economic cities could be facing a significant and costly redesign if the regulatory authority, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (Sagia), rolls out fresh building regulations next month. Sagia is making efforts to ensure that cities meet the long-term growth expectations of the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has serious population concerns. About 70 per cent of the population are under 30 years old and half are under 15. With the economic cities expected to provide massive employment opportunities, many of these younger people are expected to move to the new cities.

Yet changing regulations at this stage in the cities’ development cannot be accommodated easily. It takes considerable effort to draw up a masterplan for a city of 168 square kilometres such as King Abdullah Economic City. So it is unsurprising that telling a developer at this stage it must ensure a minimum build density causes concern and confusion.

Despite Sagia’s insistence that the cost of the regulations will be negligible, no developer can know what the full cost of changes will be until the full regulations are revealed.

It is not just the buildings themselves that might need to be changed. Higher population density places greater strain on a city’s infrastructure, including its transport, power and water networks.

In addition, not all the population increases of the coming years need to be accommodated in the economic cities. There is still potential for existing cities to grow.

The proposed regulations come at a time when the economic cities are already running behind schedule and there is speculation among observers that some are struggling to attract investment.

However, Sagia is right to plan for the long term, a lesson other states could learn. Developers would find it much more expensive to add capacity to existing infrastructure than to construct adequate capacity from the start.

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