Interview: Hani Mohammed Aburas

What are the municipality’s priorities for addressing the issues of illegal settlements in Jeddah?

HANI MOHAMMED ABURAS: Regarding the slum areas, this issue has been given top priority by the government of Saudi Arabia. The work began four years ago with a bylaw that established four categories of illegal settlements. The first is a category of areas with potential for public-private partnerships (PPPs). In Jeddah we have two such projects. The remaining three categories are being taken care of by the government through the municipalities. We are also working on a huge housing project in northern Jeddah that is currently in the infrastructure construction phase. This project covers 3m sq metres, and when it is finished it will accommodate up to 100,000 people. There are two areas in southern Jeddah that we will start demolishing and redeveloping in 2013.

What potential exists for municipality-run renewable energy projects in Jeddah?

ABURAS: In Jeddah we are pioneering this idea. We are in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), and we have contacted different renewable energy companies around the globe to find the right partners with the right knowhow. Right now, I can confirm that we will have solar and wind energy projects in Jeddah in the east of the city, and these will be conducted under a PPP model.

How might Saudi cities benefit from decentralisation and privatisation of municipal services?

ABURAS: At the Jeddah Municipality, we have not begun such initiatives, although there are clear benefits to this system. Private sector involvement brings competition and increases efficiency; something the public sector is eager to achieve. As an example, when we talk about roads in Jeddah, there are two agencies involved, Jeddah Municipality and the Ministry of Transportation. Both are now working to build roads. I am aware that having the private sector building and operating Jeddah’s roads will improve the quality of roads and services, however the government also has a core mission to provide services to Saudi citizens for free. I think privatisation for municipal services such as roads might come one day, but for the moment we are working on other priorities.

How does Al Balad district contribute to the city’s tourism industry, and what progress has been made in achieving UNESCO world heritage recognition?

ABURAS: The city centre area is very important to Jeddawis. We have completed a master plan and drafted building regulations to maintain and renovate the historic buildings of Old Jeddah. We also established a municipality specifically for the city centre area, which issues permits, develops infrastructure and monitors the condition of the buildings. When it comes to the UNESCO registration, we are working with the Tourism Commission and specialists in the field on what themes we should adapt before we apply ahead of our announcement of the UNESCO application.

How is congestion being reduced in Jeddah? What role will public transport play in the coming years?

ABURAS: Over the past year and a half we identified 52 traffic hotspots in city, and in one year we provided solutions for 23 of these. One example is Andalus road, where we eased congestion simply by removing the traffic lights. In addition to these simple solutions, we are working on bridges and underpasses, and we currently have six projects under construction, with the total value of SR1bn ($266.6m). Finally, we have public transportation, which is the ultimate solution to the congestion issue. We are working on approval for a 108-km metro system around the city. Once the budget is approved, construction will begin. It will take time for people to adapt to the new mode of transport, but it will likely quickly become the most important traffic medium in the city for both Saudis and expatriates.