Interview: Osama Al Bar
In what ways will the arrival of rail transport reshape Makkah’s urban infrastructure?
OSAMA AL BAR: At present, there is a complete reliance on road transportation methods in Makkah. Buses carry almost 3m pilgrims from the airport in Jeddah to Makkah, and between Makkah and Medina during the Hajj season. We expect that a significant portion of this traffic will shift to the high-speed train when it comes on-line. This in turn will reduce traffic on the roads. We are also working on a local metro system with five lines. These, along with the high-speed train to Medina, will greatly help the movement of both the pilgrims and residents of Makkah. There is also major work being done in the centre of Makkah, creating more shaded walkways, as well as digging tunnels through surrounding mountains to facilitate pedestrian movement to the Masjid Al Haram. There are major road network improvements under way, to complete the first, second and third ring roads, and adding new fourth and fifth roads. These initiatives will drastically change the transport infrastructure in Makkah in the next few years, with greater emphasis on rail supported by roads and pedestrian access.
How has the municipality attempted to integrate renewables into Makkah’s future energy mix?
AL BAR: We hope Makkah Municipality will be one of the first in the world to have a renewable energy programme. In May 2012 we tendered for a 100-MW solar energy station, the total of which will be 385 GW per hour for the Holy Station, but we are insisting that 100 MW will be from solar, and the remainder can be from either traditional fuel or wind energy. Makkah will remain part of the national grid, but to meet increasing demand, we have found good reason to explore additional energy sources. Our effort is to supplement the other energy sources in Saudi Arabia. We hope that this sets a new agenda for green environment codes. We want Makkah to set an example, and we hope that the city can be a pioneer in applying sustainability principles in architecture, energy conservation and transportation.
What long-term plans are there in place to ensure that Makkah can support the growth of the international Muslim community?
AL BAR: We have a comprehensive master plan for Makkah that will accommodate 5.7m hajjis per season, three times the current number, which is around 1.8m arriving from outside Saudi Arabia. During Umrah we will be able to host another 20m. By 2030 we expect around 25m visitors per year. The expansion of the mosque to accommodate this is under way. Last Ramadan we had space for around 200,000 within the new King Abdullah mosque expansion project, and with this same project we will eventually have capacity for 1.9m in the Holy Mosque. There is another mega-project that will begin late in 2012 for the expansion of Mattaf, around the Kaaba. That area currently accommodates around 50,000 worshippers per hour, and will increase to 130,000 once the expansion is completed.
How are the challenges of informal and low-cost housing within Makkah being addressed?
AL BAR: Informal settlements are not illegal settlements. Anyone who settles on a piece of land can in time apply to the courts for formal titles. In most cases these are granted and people build their houses, and all facilities are connected. In cases where titles are not granted, the municipality demolishes those structures.
The solution to the housing problem needs to be integrated with a role for the private sector. The municipality’s solution begins with an affordable housing project, Wahat-Makkah, consisting of 4332 units. The first 20% of which will be finished by March 2013, and we hope to begin two more projects of 600,000 sq metres south-west of Makkah in the Bawaba area. In addition, the Ministry of Housing will soon undertake projects in several areas allocated for housing development in Makkah. We have reserved a prime area of 4.2m sq metres south of the city for the ministry to start with this project, and we are also offering 1.5m sq metres in Bawaba for other ministry housing initiatives.
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