The Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning is set to conduct a number of initiatives to achieve a balanced urban development in all governorates in line with Oman Vision 2040.
A major highlight of the Urban strategy is the the establishment of major cities such as Greater Muscat, Greater Salalah, Greater Sohar, and Greater Nizwa.
The strategy will be discussed in a series of workshops in cooperation with the Governors’ Offices with the aim to align projects to be implemented in the governorates with the Regional Urban Strategy.
Dr Hanan Amer al Jabri, DG of Urban Planning at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, stated that the urban strategy is the main engine for all development sectors and a road map to guide urban growth over the next twenty years. This is based on sustainable urban planning characterized by flexibility to deal with the national and global variables to achieve sustainable development.
Dr Al Jabri confirmed that the strategy seeks to achieve seven major goals; the creation of flexible and livable cities and communities; the preservation of the Omani identity; climate change response, adaptation and mitigation; achievement of growth and economic diversification based on the potentials of each governorate; sustainable use of resources and the production of energy with its renewable sources and the efficiency of water and waste management. It will also address the protection and promotion of environment, food security and efficient management of water resources, finding alternative and sustainable means of transport.
Dr Hanan added that the urban strategy primarily seeks to achieve balanced urban development in all governorates, by providing guidance to growth through a series of centers identified by the strategy, based on the hierarchy of population centers to achieve and guide economic growth in governorate centers, contributing to the availability of employment opportunities, services and facilities to reduce internal migration.
She said that the national gates identified in the urban strategy come at the top of the hierarchy of population centers in the Sultanate, as the idea of developing the concept of greater cities in the Strategy came to respond to the functional roles these national economic gates and centers will play in the development.
This shall enable them to provide employment opportunities and infrastructure in alignment with the expected economic and population growth in these cities, which will integrate with its neighboring communities. This is expected to lead to the establishment of major cities such as Greater Muscat, Greater Salalah, Greater Sohar, and Greater Nizwa. Meanwhile, Duqm shall continue to develop its main scheme in proportion to its development momentum.
Regional and economic centers
The DG of Urban Planning at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning explained that according to the Strategy, major regional cities like Khasb, Rustaq, Buraimi, Ibri, Sur and Haima will work as administrative centers for the governorates. They shall provide job opportunities in those regional cities, in addition to services and facilities, to the population centers that they are linked with.
Whereas, Barka and Suwaiq shall be regional economic centers with important economic functions, supporting the main gates owing to their strategic locations, offering a variety of employment opportunities and administrative services for the communities located within their scope.
As for the economic goals of the Urban Strategy, Dr Al Jabri stated that the strategy considered the projected population growth, which is expected to reach approximately 7.1 to 7.5 million by 2040 with a 3 per cent to 5 per cent GDP increase, as part of the economic growth. This is achieved through the establishment of economic activities zones.
These five free economic zones will improve the competitiveness capacity of the Sultanate in attracting direct foreign investment, increasing the efficiency of business environment, improving the economic performance, rising the contribution of foreign direct investment in GDP by 10 per cent, and increasing the numbers of skilled labor force in the private sector to make up about 83 per cent.
Future economic sectors
She said that achieving economic growth and prosperity revolves around non-oil sectors in the governorates and the efforts to strengthen and develop them based on the potentials of each governorate, such as knowledge, innovation, tourism and manufacturing industries, in addition to logistics, finance and services.
Sustainability and Response to Climate Change
Dr Hanan al Jabri confirmed that the urban strategy pays attention to the potential impacts of climate change and has put in place precautionary measures to reduce expected losses, adapt to necessary changes that may occur during the preparation and implementation of plans and projects, and assess all necessary strategies and plans in terms of impact on sustainability with its various social, economic, environmental and cultural dimensions.
Reducing waste and gas emissions
Furthermore, Dr Hanan said that the urban strategy also seeks to shift towards circular economy to reduce the waste of materials and energy through recycling and reuse of materials instead of the common pattern of waste dumping.
This shall reduce waste, gas emissions and raw materials depletion by 70 per cent, contributing to the creation of economic and investment opportunities, in addition to focusing on renewable energy systems as a main source of energy through renewable energy projects which will contribute to the production of clean and renewable energy by up to 62 per cent.
Natural and cultural heritage
On her part, Dr Thuraiya Saeed Khamis al Sariri, Assistant Director of Nature Conservation in the Environment Authority, said that the urban strategy has taken into account the topic of natural and cultural heritage and focused on two elements, namely; environmental and natural resources, and special nature areas, to ensure environmental protection and sustainable management of the Sultanate’s diverse natural heritage.
This is to be achieved through the establishment of a network of natural reserves, the provision of infrastructure and cadres necessary to preserve the natural heritage outside protected areas, and the identification and classification of important environmental and heritage resources, integrating them into the urban development processes, in addition to the possibilities of reinvesting them economically while ensuring their protection and preservation for the future generations.
Areas of Special Nature
Dr Thuraiya stated that the planning of special nature areas comes as a new schematic classification aiming to offer protection for coastal and terrestrial areas of distinctive characteristics that combine natural landscapes, economic and cultural value, in addition to geological resources.
She noted that identifying special nature areas does not constitute an obstacle to development projects, yet it functions as a framework to guide the development of business enterprises established in those areas, ensuring the proper management of existing resources for current and future generations.
Dr Thuraiya explained that there are five zones, namely Musandam, Al Hajar Mountains, Al Sharqiyah Sands, Jiddat Al Harasis and Al Haqf in Al Wusta governorate that fall within the terrestrial special nature planning areas which cover an area of 75,000 square kilometers from the Sultanate’s total area.
As for coastal special nature planning areas, they include Musandam, Muscat, Al Sharqiah, Al Wusta, Masirah, East and West Dhofar, making up a 40,000 square kilometers area from the total area of the Sultanate.