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Researching the planning and redevelopment of military sites

16 June 2016 Author: Stephen Harness MRTPI

“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us” – Winston Churchill.


Over the last couple of years I have been researching the planning and redevelopment of military sites across the world. This followed on from my being awarded a fellowship with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The aim of the fellowship Trust is to widen an individual`s experience to bring benefit to others in the UK through sharing the results. So I’d like to share with you some of my findings and experiences gained.

Although the fellowship means I was funded to undertake the research travel across the world, it also meant many hours of work in my own time researching here in the UK and using my annual leave for the case study visits to the USA, Australia and New Zealand, but at least managed to fit in some holiday trips around the site visits and meetings. Identifying suitable case studies, making contact with the appropriate people and arranging for meetings and site tours can be very time consuming.

The first stage of my research involved travelling to the USA to visit sites across Washington, Maryland and Virginia. I visited one of the US’ largest military bases Fort Belvoir which has been growing rapidly over recent years and plans would allow for it to double in size. The base has adopted a 40 year master plan which includes many sustainable development principles and these have been used to influence the delivery of new developments across the site including a new hospital, housing (at a much higher density) and supporting facilities. I also included a case study of a closed site Fort Munroe which is being redeveloped for housing and employment but also to preserve and re-use the many historic properties across the site.

The scale of issues in the US is completely different from the UK, but it was interesting to talk to the project team and learn that many of the issues they have and are facing are the same. I had read so much about the case studies online before my research trip I was questioning whether there was any need to visit, but those tours showed me the difference in views you gain when you only rely on online sources, talking to the teams, local organisations and visiting the sites was invaluable to my research. I was also lucky to be able to meet with researchers from the Library of Congress who have published research on the consolidation process that has been followed by the military over recent years across the USA.

Fort Belvoir View Across To Hospital
View from Fort Belvoir Town Centre across to the Hospital Campus


I think the photo above looking away from the Town Centre of Fort Belvoir neatly summarises the successes of the Master Plan. This view is across the village green with cycling and pedestrian routes to the Hospital Campus within walkable distance. The team have developed an innovative 4D (involving the element of time) 40 year vision for the site which has already delivered higher density developments promoting walking and cycling.

The second stage of my research took me to visit sites in Australia and New Zealand to undertake tours of two of the biggest projects undertaken on military bases in those countries since the Second World War. The first was the redevelopment of Hobsonville, a former airbase on the outskirts of the City of Auckland, New Zealand. This Government led scheme has already delivered hundreds of houses and an employment area as well as a new sustainable transport and a ferry link into the City Centre. Of particular interest was the proactive approach that the Government had taken to seek to influence wider approaches towards more sustainable forms of development and paying particular attention to the natural and built heritage of the site.

The second case study focussed on the Holdsworthy Barracks site of the large Moorebank Units Relocation project in Sydney, Australia. Here two major sites had been consolidated onto one including the development of 72 new buildings. Of particular interest was the core principles that the site team had developed to influence the development of the master plan and that these had been followed through to the delivery of a sustainable and legible scheme. Key features included a cycle / pedestrian superhighway and a zoned approach separating heavy from light traffic and public / semi-public and secure areas.

Hobsonville Central P1210984
Hobsonville Town Centre

Hobsonville Staff IMG_20150423_113249
Meeting with the Project Team in New Zealand

Photo 4 Holsworthy Barracksv2
Holsworthy Barracks and Cycle-Pedestrian “Superhighway”

Hollsworthy Site Team IMG_20150504_115230
Meeting with the project team in Australia.


I have now completed my fellowship report and it is available to download here, but the fellowship will never be over. I’m continuing the research and have recently made contact with Planners in the Philippines and Belize to share experience of such issues. The research has enabled me to develop some core principles for estate development plans which can be applied to MOD projects based on the findings of my research. It’s nice to see that the findings are already being applied.

More details about the Winston Churchill Fellowship Trust can be obtained on www.wcmt.org.uk including categories for applications for each year and how to apply.

Stephen Harness MRTPI

Stephen Harness MRTPI

Stephen Harness is a Chartered Member of the RTPI, is on the International Committee and is South East Region’s General Assembly representative. Previously he was the Honorary Secretary for the South East Region and has been an active member in Institute activities for many years including being convenor for the West of Scotland and the Thames Valley. He works for Defence Infrastructure Organisation for the UK’s Ministry of Defence recently that included leading two RTPI Planning for Excellence awards commended projects.