"A start-up the size of a country" - Is this the world's most ambitious project?

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Saudi Arabia’s government has begun awarding contracts for the development of a 26,500 sq km mega-city of the future. The $722 billion project - to be called Neom - is aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy to focus less on crude oil. It’ll be built in Tabuk, close to the border with Egypt.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the plan is to have Neom run on 100 percent renewable energy. Meetings with potential investors and strategic partners are underway with phase one of the mammoth project scheduled for completion in 2025. The overall project though could take up to 50 years to complete.

 Neom is slated to be built in Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Egypt.

Neom is slated to be built in Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Egypt.

Reuters says contracts have already been awarded for five palaces to house the King, Crown Prince and other senior royals. The news agency says it’s seen a project design document showing opulent buildings with modern and traditional Moroccan-style architecture featuring Islamic designs and colourful ceramic tiles. The complex of palaces will include helipads, a marina and a golf course. Neom will have its own judicial system and legislation, focusing on industries such as energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and tourism.

 Promoters say Neom will be 33 times bigger than New York City.

Promoters say Neom will be 33 times bigger than New York City.

Publicity for Neom heralds it as “the land of the future, where the greatest minds and the best talents are empowered to embody pioneering ideas and exceed boundaries in a world inspired by imagination.” Like something from a science fiction movie, Neom will be a high-tech urban living space, an innovative business hub and an independent economic zone - with robots to do the boring, repetitive tasks humans loathe.

 It's understoon "Neom" could take up to 50 years to complete.

It's understoon "Neom" could take up to 50 years to complete.

Announcing the project last October, bin Salman said “this place is not for conventional people or conventional companies, this will be a place for the dreamers of the world. The strong political will and the desire of a nation. All the success factors are there to create something big in Saudi Arabia.”

Commentators says Saudi’s intent on overhauling the economy while creating enough wealth to avoid the risk of social unrest. According to Bloomberg similar efforts over the past 30 years have floundered, with plans losing steam as soon as crude oil prices have recovered. Some landmark projects, such as a $14 billion financial district in Riyadh, are struggling to take off.

However Neom’s chief executive, Klaus Kleinfeld, claims it’s attracting massive interest from foreign investors.

You can see the Neom website here.