The country is undertaking one of its most extensive construction projects to date, which is expected to transform the Kingdom’s north-west and set a benchmark for the future of smart city development worldwide. Located in Tabuk province, close to the Jordanian and Egyptian borders, NEOM will span the Red Sea coast with mountains, deserts and plains, and aims to use smart city technologies to achieve sustainable living and zero carbon emissions. Groundbreaking began in October 2021 and is scheduled for completion in 2025.
One of the projects under the NEOM rubric consists of two parallel, 170-km-long, 500-metre-high skyscraper walls known as The Line. This linear megastructure is expected to run inland from the Gulf of Aqaba and accommodate up to 9m people. There are also plans to re-green and re-wild the region. The Line is one of three projects in the NEOM portfolio, the others being OXAGON, a next-generation automated and integrated port and supply chain, and Trojena, located 50 km inland in the mountains, combining a tourist destination with a residential and commercial city.
Plans & Vision
NEOM is a critical part of the country’s effort to remake Saudi Arabia under its longterm socio-economic development plan, Vision 2030. This programme seeks to move the Kingdom away from its traditional, twin economic engines of oil and gas and government spending, encouraging entrepreneurship and the development of new industries and services. The vision also takes account of Saudi Arabia’s growing youth demographic, with an effort to apply their skills for future sustainable growth. The Line alone targets the creation of 380,000 new jobs while adding SR180bn ($48bn) to the Saudi economy by 2030.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud first announced plans for NEOM in 2017, indicating that it would be built on a 26,500-sq-km site managed by a new company of the same name. Finance would come from $500bn in investment from international and domestic sources, including the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF). The fund is headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and owns the NEOM Company.
The city is set to have an autonomous judicial system, tax regime and labour laws, while also being powered by 100% renewable energy. In July 2020 NEOM Green Hydrogen, Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and US-based Air Products and Chemicals announced a joint development project to build the world’s largest green hydrogen plant in OXAGON. Reports surfaced in May 2022 that India’s Larsen & Toubro had been selected to construct the renewable energy power supply for the green hydrogen plant. This endeavour is expected to include a 2930-MW solar facility, a 1370-MW wind farm and a 400-MW battery storage system, along with a 190-km transmission network. NEOM’s energy, water and hydrogen subsidiary ENOWA signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2022 with Japan’s Itochu and Veolia for a 100% renewable-energy-powered desalination plant located in OXAGON. The plant is expected to start producing water in 2024.
Trojena had its inaugural launch in March 2022, when Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced plans for an all-year ski village, an artificial lake, and the Vault – a vertical village in the mountains. Trojena plans to house 7000 permanent residents and attract 700,000 visitors annually by 2030, with the project set for completion in 2026. New tunnel blasting and drilling contracts were awarded in June 2022, and construction work is in development, with 28 km of tunnels planned as part of a high-speed train network. These infrastructure projects are expected to support car-free living within The Line, with high-speed underground trains, powered by renewable energy, conveying inhabitants along its 170-km length in under 20 minutes.
As there will likely be concerted efforts to build and finance NEOM in the coming years, its journey to completion could provide important lessons for the future of urban planning and smart cities around the world.