On sloping open spaces just north of Glasgow, dumptrucks are rushing to and fro, bulldozers are pushing topsoil and excavators finishing trenches.
Across a small hillside nearby a regular thumping can be heard as two lattice boom cranes lift and drop heavy steel plates to compact the ground.
But despite the buzz of activity and the rush of machinery, the average observer would be hard pressed to work out what is going on over these open, windswept spaces. That will only become clear next Spring when work begins on the first of around 800 houses which will fill the spaces currently being flattened by infrastructure contractor Balfour Beatty.
The scene will be clearer still in subsequent years. Alongside the houses will be a new college campus and a local sports facility. Later, in 2009, work will begin on a major retail and leisure complex nearby, with squares and parks around it, more housing, offices and the first units for a light industrial park. Over the next two decades this urban core will be surrounded with even more housing, more offices and factory spaces. A local railway station will be going in too.
A complete new town costing £1.4bn is under construction in other words. By 2025 it will fill much of the 450ha area. The town will house a population of more than 10,000 and should have acquired a momentum as a brand new community.
This is Ravenscraig, 15km north of Glasgow, once an industrial powerhouse where a state-of-the-art steelworks employed 30,000, both directly and in peripheral industries. It was an iconic symbol of Scotland’s manufacturing power and a nationally significant contributor to the post-war economy.
But the harsh realities of privatisation and the emphasis on profitability and the services industry led to the works' demise and, after much turmoil, it finally shut down for good in 1992.
For the next decade the site simply sat there. Then in the mid 1990s, the old steelworks buildings were demolished and old slag heaps and contaminated areas were cleaned up. A new road for through traffic and as a "spine" for the site was installed.
"Corus, the steelworks' owner, and Scottish Enterprise spent around £50M on that" says Tony Grieg, commercial manager for Wilson Bowden Developments, part of the joint venture now taking the scheme forward, with Corus and Scottish Enterprise.
"It was always envisaged by the local development agency, Scottish Enterprise Lanarkshire and Corus, that the area should be regenerated," says Grieg. Plans were drawn up in the mid-1990s, but it has taken nearly a decade for a developer to be apponted, and a master plan design to be produced. Assorted planning permissions have also been sought and obtained.
Final go ahead came in March last year and the joint venture immediately got on with preparations and detailed design for the first phase of the project, which comprises two areas of housing.
Money for this work is coming from the developer, which will recoup its costs as the land is sold on to housing developers.
On site, contractor Balfour Beatty has been carrying out a £26M preparation contract for "platform and infrastructure" since October last year. Work covers installation of basic infrastructure to service the housing, including a sewer line along the main spine road corridor in trench up to 8m deep. Two separate development platforms are needed for housing on the site.
"The two areas are separated by a small artificial hillside which contains much of the contaminated ground removed by Corus," explains John McKnight, technical director for consultant URS Corporation which has been the designer for this phase. The heap, christened "Prospect Hill" has been capped with clay and landscaped for a future recreational use area.
This is a downhill slope, with a mix of steel and blast furnace slag deposited on it.
"The steel slag is expansive and therefore has to be removed," says Dickie.
That involved more than a simple earthmoving operation. In the years since closure the slag deposit areas have been colonised by plovers.
They nest on semi-open ground and, so similar spaces have had to be created elsewhere on the site, mainly in an area which will become parkland. It is hoped the birds will gradually migrate as work progress.
The birds are not the only environmental constraint. The contractor is trying to limit the amount of spoil that is disposed of. Consequently the steel slag is being used as topsoil in a project developed with sustainability body, WRAP. "It would be expensive anyway with landfill fees and tax," says McKnight.
The slag is broken down and mixed with compost. Two mixes, one with additional clay are being tested for plant growth at present and are producing encouraging results.
"That not only avoids disposal but helps solve a shortage of topsoil that we would otherwise run into" says Balfour Beatty project director Graeme Dickey.
With the slag out of the way, the remaining groundworks can proceed. First a major grouting operation is required because part of the site is riddled with old mines. These date back to the Middle Ages and only some are recorded; a full site investigation across a 6ha area of the site was needed to locate them.
Subcontractor Skanska-Cementation has had up to eight drills on site injecting around 20,000m3 of cement grout to fill the voids.
To level the ground, clean clay moved from further up the hillside has been brought in. Some 500.000m3 of clay was moved and the total earthmove has reached around 700,000m3.
"We have used dynamic compaction to finish the ground because there are fairly stringent settlement criteria of just 20mm to be achieved" says Dickie.
Balfour Beatty has also installed a sustainable drainage system along the spine road as well as a pumping station in the middle of the site. This will handle up to 600l/s of foul water, sufficient for the entire town.
But this is just the start. Next, £100M will be spent on the new town centre’s infrastructure.