“Homs Dream” Construction Project Returns to the Fore

The fate of several historic, destroyed neighbourhoods in Homs city remains unclear amid contradictory government statements regarding the proper law to be adopted to reconstruct areas depopulated by war.

In August 2015, the Homs City Council approved the final, general zoning plan for a project to reconstruct the neighbourhoods of Baba Amro, Al-Sultaniyeh and Jobar under Decree No. 5 of 1982, known as the Urban Planning Law, and its amendments. The Council had indicated that the plans will be carried out on 217 hectares of land and will include 465 housing units.

These neighbourhoods came under opposition control in late 2011, and were subject to siege and bombardment, causing widespread destruction. In March 2012, residents of those districts were displaced en masse to the outskirts of Qusayr.

Since Law No. 10 of 2018 was introduced, enabling the establishment of development zones within administrative units, the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment has directed the Homs governorate to prepare zoning studies for several areas. Homs governor Talal Al-Barazi said in December 2019 that the neighbourhoods of Baba Amro, Al-Sultaniyeh and Jobar would be zoned according to Law No. 10.

In July that same year, the head of the Homs governorate’s Directorate for Decision Support and Regional Planning, Reem Baalbaki, said that the governorate had finished preparing the approved zoning plans, and was waiting for an official decree to begin construction.

Ms Baalbaki confirmed at the time that these zoning plans were connected to the “Homs Dream” construction project. The Homs Dream project dates back to 2005, when the governor of Homs at the time, Iyad Ghazal, contracted a private engineering office from Aleppo to commission a comprehensive study for urban development in Homs city. The office then prepared engineering plans for the entire city, which were titled Homs Dream. “Homs Dream did not end, and was not cancelled,” Ms Baalbaki said. “Homs Dream is a real estate development project, while our present-day situation is one of reconstruction, which is more comprehensive.”

Real estate development areas are subject to the Real Estate Development and Investment Law No. 15 of 2008.

It is unclear why three separate laws, whose differences are difficult to define, are being used sequentially in preparing plans for the reconstruction of Homs’ destroyed historic districts. If Law No. 5 of 1982 provides the general legal framework for urban planning, allowing administrative units to develop both general and detailed zoning plans, then Law No. 10 of 2018 subsequently gives those administrative units the right to propose the creation of new zones within existing plans. Law No. 15 of 2008, meanwhile, aims to attract investment in the real estate sector, with the ultimate goal of addressing informal housing areas. Perhaps the most notable difference between these three laws, in the context of Homs, lies in the methods of expropriation they allow towards real estate properties, which are reflected in the compensation and alternative housing provided to the impacted property owners.

Since its launch, the project has been shrouded in mystery, although it has been promoted as having a wide variety of goals, most of which centre around modernising Homs while taking into account environmental concerns, alternative energy and beautification. Under the plans set out by Homs Dream, the city would be divided into nine districts. The countryside immediately surrounding the city would also be divided, according to which administrative areas they belonged. The project was meant to be completed in all the delineated areas.

The project has also sparked considerable public anger, amid accusations that the governor wanted to use Homs Dream to empty the old city of its residents and convert it into a tourism zone. The first demonstrations in Homs in 2011 included slogans denouncing Homs Dream and former governor Iyad Ghazal, accusing him of trying to carry out demographic change.

Source: Ahel Baba Amro page.