Saudi Arabia’s construction industry – far more sizeable than those of its GCC neighbours – never ceases to amaze. Early in July 2015, Construction Week reported that firms with ongoing or upcoming Mecca projects in their pipelines have procured Italian quarries to ‘exclusively secure’ the quantities of marble required for construction in the holy city.

Donal O’Leary, director at Faithful+Gould, says the Saudi market has intelligently invested its resources to guard against potential delays on Mecca developments – especially mosque projects – caused by a dearth of marble.

In August 2014, it was reported that one of Saudi BinLadin Group’s (SBG) units purchased a 50% stake in Italian marble manufacturer, Marmi di Carrara, in a deal worth $61m.

O’Leary says that this strategy is particularly significant given the rate of construction and development in Mecca.

Highlighting the knock-on effect marble shortages would have on other sectors in Mecca and the wider Kingdom, O’Leary tells Construction Week: “A large component of, [say], big malls, is materials for the floor; the front-of-house flooring.

“Obviously, different developers use different materials, but marble tends to be a fairly common choice for the same.

“It was recently found that some Italian quarries are being secured exclusively by some of the big developers and contractors in Saudi with upcoming projects in Mecca [in their pipelines],” O’Leary continues.

But high-quality marble quantities to meet such demand may not be possible, he adds.

“The large infrastructure growth in Mecca means contractors and developers know there might be a shortage in high-quality European marble,” O’Leary explains.

Neighbouring Qatar has tried to emulate Saudi Arabia’s strategy. Reports in March 2015 stated Qatar Primary Materials Company (QMPC) was set to acquire quarries in the UAE and Oman. The firm is also eyeing barges to create an efficient water transport system for goods around the peninsula, in an effort to reduce reliance on road transport.

“Qatar’s long-term demand for aggregates is projected to 30-million tonnes per year,” Navjot Singh, QPMC’s director of operations, said at the time.

“The demand for primary materials is set to pick up in the coming years. We are in the process of acquiring both gabbro and limestone quarries in the UAE and Oman.”

Sure enough, Qatar’s Public Works Authority, Ashghal, and QPMC signed an agreement in July 2015, aimed at supplying the infrastructure authority with more than 100-million tonnes of building materials within a span of five years.

The deal includes 51-million tonnes of gabbro and 41-million tonnes of limestone, as part of ongoing efforts to ensure the availability of construction materials for Ashghal’s planned infrastructure development projects.

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