Set in the Prince Mohammad bin Salman Nature Reserve along Saudi Arabia’s north western coast and spanning 4,155 sq. km, the year-round destination features a pristine landscape and diverse natural ecosystems, coupled with a unique and intriguing heritage and local culture. Once complete, AMAALA will be home to more than 3,000 hotel rooms across 25 hotels. We spoke to Neal Coote, Executive Director of Infrastructure at AMAALA, to find out more about the challenges of delivering this giga-project and how AMAALA is ensuring the protection of the local ecosystem.
Saudi Projects: AMAALA means ‘clean and pure’ and the environmental focus on the project is well-known, but what are you doing differently concerning infrastructure to ensure that the ecosystem remains at the heart of the project? In which ways will your work respond to the area’s natural environment and heritage?
Neal Coote: The environment at AMAALA is something we take very seriously. ESIAs (Environmental and Social Impact Assessments), supported by extensive terrestrial, marine and archaeological surveys were conducted for all the Masterplans. Areas of sensitivity were identified and solutions developed to minimize impact. For example, the Triple Bay road network alignment is designed to navigate existing escarpments and preserve wadi flow paths. Special attention has been given to the turtle nesting beaches and sensitive marine environment. The AMAALA design guidelines have clear set back requirements to respect the sensitivities and also help us achieve our commitment to Dark Skies accreditation.
SP: Have you had a few surprises popping up?
Neal: Yes, we have. For instance, the archeological surveys discovered some high value archaeological findings in the Triple Bay area. We’re working with the Ministry of Culture to preserve significant archaeological sites and burial grounds across the project area. There is also some interesting flora and fauna. In fact, there are many very fascinating surprises on a project of this scale and location.
SP: You had a blank slate when you started, so what’s the most revolutionary aspect of the project?
Neal: The infrastructure objectives are to deliver high quality, resilient levels of service with delivery certainty and scalability, whilst maintaining low environmental and visual impact during operations. One of the revolutionary aspects for a development of this type is that we will be powered solely by renewable energy, and we won’t be connected to the national grid. To make such a commitment to full renewable energy at the scale of AMAALA and The Red Sea Project is quite unique for tourism developments.
Because we started with a blank slate, we could ensure that it was scalable, high quality, resilient infrastructure, with no environmental impact and no visual impact
SP: How are things moving along at present? Is everything on schedule?
Neal: We are currently focusing on Phase 1 of the Development i.e. Triple Bay. The infrastructure to support the developments is progressing well. We currently have a Utilities PPP type RFP in the market to develop, finance, design, construct and operate the major water and power systems, including the renewable power supply and water supply for Phase 1.
SP: What infrastructure is being worked on at the present time in AMAALA?
We have a lot of projects at various stages, too many to mention them all. The main ones are the Utilities PPP, which is in the procurement stage, and we’ve completed the design and procurement of the Triple Bay North Interchange, which will provide access from Highway 5 and the Triple Bay Primary Infrastructure which includes 31km of roads and associated utilities networks, 55 drainage culverts and 12 pumping stations. We’re about to award the construction contracts for both of these projects.
SP: Can you tell me a little about the Triple Bay project – it is in a wonderful but quite remote location, so what challenges do you face and how you are navigating them?
Neal: The main infrastructure challenges are the remote site with very little by the way of existing infrastructure. Also, the mountainous topography and wadi network and the sensitive marine habitats. We’ve developed the design to try and minimize earthworks to reduce haulage of materials and were prioritizing the use of local materials wherever possible.
One of the first major developments on-site is accommodation for employees, which is being constructed to a very high standard
SP: You will have a large workforce on-site?
Neal: We currently have 2,500 workers on site and expect this to peak at around 40,000. One of the first major projects completed on-site is Phase 1 of a large-scale Construction Village to provide a high standard of accommodation for workers; also focusing on sustainability, health and welfare, with solar for water heating, grey water recycling, and sports facilities.
SP: Has the constantly evolving technology been a boon for keeping things on track, particularly through the pandemic?
Neal: From a technology standpoint, we’ve become accustomed to working on online platforms such as Microsoft Teams. This was vital during the pandemic when we continued to progress the projects in a fast-track environment. It helps us to keep work moving and communicate far more effectively, sharing information and documents; especially as we’re working with many international consultants and companies. It’s technology that’s been around for a while but evolved very quickly when the pandemic struck.
We’re a forward-thinking company, always looking to the latest technologies to support our work. On the design side we’re using BIM 360, a part of the Autodesk suite of software, coordinating designs in a 3D and cloud environment.
Another technology that has come to the fore lately is the use of drones. We use them for carrying out surveys, and we’ll continue to use them for monitoring the work as it moves forward. We’re also adopting smart technology such as smart metering, real-time monitoring of utility systems and irrigation sensors to optimize operating efficiency and reduce water and energy usage.
We’re using BIM 360, a part of the Autodesk Construction Cloud, connecting workflows, teams and data
SP: When you were first offered this opportunity, did you feel excitement or did you wonder if you were going to get any sleep for a few years?
Neal: I was already aware about some of the amazing projects being planned and the sheer ambition of Vision 2030, so the chance of being a part of something so groundbreaking was hugely exciting. My wife and I had a baby recently, so I’m already used to not sleeping much!
SP: What are you most proud of on the project at the moment?
Neal: Two things come to mind, the first being our commitment to the Environment and Sustainability, demonstrated by our fully renewable power supply. But I think I’m most proud of the Infrastructure team we’ve formed, starting from nothing to around 20 people and still growing. The commitment, collaboration and team spirit is inspiring. Everyone is pulling together and supporting each other to deliver this amazing once in a lifetime project. It’s a multicultural team and we have a number of very talented Saudi graduates who are part of our Elite Graduate Program.