“The delivery of the first batch of compensation for the removed properties has begun,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said in a report late Sunday, though it did not specify how many people had been compensated so far.
It said one billion Saudi riyals ($267,000) would be distributed as part of the “first batch of compensation”, without providing a timeline or indicating when future payouts might occur.
Authorities have pitched the clearance and construction work in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city, as the latest ambitious project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, one that will replace “slums” with amenities like a stadium, an oceanarium and an opera house.
Yet some who have lost homes have bristled at official descriptions of their old neighbourhoods as undesirable hotbeds of drugs and crime.
They have also voiced concern about how compensation will work, telling AFP earlier this year that there was no clear way to assess the value of property that is already destroyed.
Appraisals are being carried out by “independent committees” representing four government agencies, SPA said.
Jeddah — often referred to as the “Gateway to Mecca”, Islam‘s holiest city — is a lively tourist hub of beachfront restaurants and galleries that has in past months hosted a major film festival and a Formula One Grand Prix.
The demolitions risk fuelling anti-government sentiment in the 32 neighbourhoods affected, many of which housed a mix of Saudis and foreigners from other Arab countries and Asia.
So far, 20 neighbourhoods have been cleared, SPA said, and the process of clearing the remaining 12 will be completed by mid-November.
The Saudi government has promised to provide compensation and announced in February it would complete 5,000 replacement housing units by the end of the year.
Officials defend the project, saying it will modernise the city and add 17,000 new residential units, while retaining its character.