Saudi construction project ramp-up accelerates

8 March 2023


Saudi Arabia’s construction projects market is charting an ever-more dynamic growth trajectory, underpinned by progress on the kingdom’s mega and gigaprojects.

The country was the GCC’s most active projects market for construction contractors for the third year running in 2022, with $32.4bn-worth of construction and transport contracts awards, according to MEED Projects.

It was also the third consecutive year of growth for Saudi construction contract awards, which rose by 58 per cent last year, up from $20.6bn in 2021. This, in turn, was up 38 per cent from the $14.8bn-worth of awards in 2020.

Construction sector awards accounted for 58 per cent of the total $55bn-worth of Saudi contract awards in 2022 across all sectors.

Gigaprojects drive

After the 2022 reveal of The Line, the 170-kilometre-long structure planned for the $500bn Neom project, February 2023 saw the kingdom launch New Murabba, a masterplan to create the world’s largest modern downtown in Riyadh.

As its centrepiece, the masterplan will feature a cubic skyscraper titled the Mukaab, a Najdi-inspired landmark that will be one of the biggest buildings in the world upon completion, at 400 metres high, 400 metres wide and 400 metres long.

The overall development will cover an area of 19 square kilometres, nearly five times the size of Dubai’s downtown, which spans two square kilometres and was built at an estimated cost of AED73bn ($20bn). While the total budget for the Riyadh scheme is not yet announced, its estimated cost could exceed $100bn.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), is also considering plans for a 2km megatower in Riyadh. The proposed tower would be more than double the height of the world’s tallest building – Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is 828 metres tall. Depending on the final design, contractors that have priced megatall towers in the region say a 2km-tall structure could cost about $5bn to construct.

New Murabba will be developed by the New Murabba Development Company, which is backed by the PIF. It could also be added to the official list of PIF gigaproject developments, alongside Neom, the Red Sea Project, Qiddiya, Roshn and Diriyah Gate.

According to MEED’s Saudi Gigaprojects report, the kingdom's gigaprojects could award up to $569bn-worth of contracts from 2021 through 2025, financing and contracting capacity permitting.

However, even a fraction of such a total would be a step change for the regional projects market, which saw $172bn-worth of work awarded from 2016 to 2021.

Saudi Arabia’s contract awards in the last quarter of 2022 were dominated by Neom’s infrastructure and earthworks packages. Five of the top 10 largest construction awards in 2022 and 2023 so far have been for Neom projects.

Other dynamic projects include the $30bn King Salman International airport; the $15bn Al-Ula development; the Royal Commission for Riyadh City's $23bn King Salman International Park, Green Riyadh and Sports Boulevard projects; Saudi Entertainment Ventures' (Seven) $5bn entertainment complexes; the $3bn Asir project; and Neom's $2bn Trojena lake project known as ‘The Vault’.

Urban regeneration

Alongside the redevelopment of Riyadh, the kingdom is also pursuing a much broader series of regeneration schemes across its major cities as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

In February, the country kicked off a major Jeddah waterfront project, part of a 15-year Historic Jeddah Revitalisation programme. The same month, US-headquartered Parsons was awarded a $15m contract to provide construction project management consultancy and contract administration services (PMCM) for the Rua al-Madinah project in Medina city.

The Rua al-Madinah project represents the first phase of the Madinah Central Area development and is projected to add $37bn to Saudi’s GDP and create 93,000 jobs. Rua al-Madinah Holding Company, another PIF subsidiary, is developing the scheme.

Last October, PIF invited firms, through its Saudi Downtown Company (SDC), to submit bids for contracts to provide project management services for 12 $500m urban downtown redevelopment schemes in cities across the kingdom.

Prospects for 2023

With more than $120bn-worth of projects in the pipeline for 2023, the outlook remains strong for the construction and transport sectors. Alongside Saudi Arabia’s masterplans, there are also a variety of public transport projects, logistics platforms and railways in the procurement process as part of the kingdom’s National Transport and Logistics Strategy.

The planned rise in government capital expenditure to SR1,114bn in 2023, up from SR955bn in 2022, supports the ramp-up in project activity.

The Ministry of Finance’s key 2023 budget spending objectives in construction include building affordable housing for 120,000 families, developing nearly 1 million sq m of parks, and building 176 ready-made industrial units together with the infrastructure for a further 56 million sq m of industrial plots. The affordable housing plans are part of a Ministry of Housing Sakani programme to raise the home-ownership ratio to 70 per cent by 2030.

The Saudi budget also affirmed that by 2025, PIF plans to invest SR1tn in new projects.

Amid subdued activity in neighbouring countries, Saudi Arabia has become the prevailing focus for GCC contractors, with local and international contractors pivoting towards the kingdom and away from Qatar and the UAE. 

“We are focusing on projects in Saudi Arabia. The job is there, not elsewhere anymore,” says a contracting source from a UAE national company.

Locally, the build-up of construction activity will be spearheaded by the creation of national champions in the contracting sector, with PIF investing $1.3bn in four local construction companies: Al-Bawani Holding Company, Almabani General Contractors Company, El-Seif Engineering Contracting Company and Nesma & Partners Contracting Company.

Image: Red Sea Global signs hotel management agreement with Fairmont to operate resort in first phase of development at the Red Sea Project
Eva Levesque
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