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Consolidation of Military Sites: A Town Planner’s Perspective

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Disposals, Town Planning

Hi my name is Stephen Harness and as you might remember if you’ve read one of my earlier blogs I’m a town planner for DIO.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 set out the aim that we reduce the size of the built estate by 30%. You may have seen that Mark Lancaster, Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, announced last week the first 12 sites DIO is releasing under the MOD’s Footprint Strategy. This is an ongoing piece of work to create a smaller but better estate by looking at which military sites are under-used and can therefore potentially be sold. By disposing of under-used sites we are able to target investment at those which remain.

With that in mind, it seems a suitable time to talk about how we develop and consolidate military bases to allow some to be sold.


In 2013 I was awarded funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to undertake some research into the topic. I went on fact-finding visits to former military bases: in 2014 I visited Washington DC and Virginia; and in 2015 I travelled to New Zealand and Australia. On these trips I met more than 30 people from the three countries representing the military, planning authorities and business groups and liaised with researchers and planning institutes across the world.

I looked at a range of factors including provision of bus and cycle routes, use of open public spaces, retaining historical connections and structures and many more. The end result was a piece of research into best practice in the redevelopment of military sites, linking this to the initial design and layout of sites.

The redeveloped town centre at Fort Belvoir, USA. [Stephen Harness]
The redeveloped town centre at Fort Belvoir, USA. [Stephen Harness]


The main findings have been summarised into master planning principles to be followed in the design and consolidation of military sites as well as identifying best practice in their redevelopment for other uses. My new guidelines aim to make better use of land, including increased integration of military and civilian communities, while also making facilities and sites more sustainable and resilient to change.

Housing at the site of the former Hobsonville air base in Auckland, New Zealand. [Stephen Harness]
Housing at the site of the former Hobsonville air base in Auckland, New Zealand. [Stephen Harness]
My main conclusions following my visits were that plans for development:

  • need to be based on longer-term timescales – at least 20 years - and on commonly understood sustainable design principles. They should focus on the unique aspects of the site, its history and integration with the surrounding area, whilst supporting the diversity of the community and its economic base
  • need to be taken forward in a partnership with an open and transparent process
  • need to integrate facilities with the local community to ensure that the plan is flexible, resilient and can adapt to long term changes in demand.

I recently volunteered to co-ordinate a series of professional development events for the DIO Town and Environmental Planners so I’ll be presenting the findings of my research and discussing how they can be used to inform the development of Estate Master Plan guidelines for DIO. My research is already being used in an informal manner in the preparation of Estate Development Plans on two sites, but following our event we hope to adopt a more formal approach based on the findings of my fellowship.

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  1. Comment by Sarah Browning posted on

    Hi Stephen, great read thank you, look forward to catching up soon. Sarah Browning, DIO SIM Ascension

  2. Comment by Jonathan Lee posted on

    Hi Stephen - interesting article. How do the USA, Australia and New Zealand deal with the legacy of historic buildings and other heritage assets in their consideration of reuse and redevelopment of their military sites? Will you also be visiting European countries where the age profile and historic importance of military buildings may more closely match that of the UK?

    • Replies to Jonathan Lee>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Jonathan - thanks for reading. Please see below response from Stephen:

      "Hi Jonathan, thanks. All three case study countries undertook assessments of military (and civilian) built heritage before preparing reuse and redevelopment master plans. As in the UK these assessments often shape the format of the master plan. Perhaps the biggest difference is the scope for public input to those plans between the countries. When choosing case studies I contacted planning institutes and researchers across Europe and the rest of the world to seek examples that were seen as recent well advanced best practice approaches. I also did some work looking at the different approaches taken by the countries withdrawing from bases in Germany. I also found some very interesting cases from Europe, for example wholesale changes in location in Slovenia, over time I aim to continue to add to the research depending on what I can resource and would be interested to hear suggestions of case studies."

  3. Comment by Paul Bailey posted on

    Hi, interesting reading your article. However, I have a very different view of DIO at RAF Wyton. I am the deputy chmn of the Pathfinder Flying Club which operates safely and professionally. Many servicemen including RAF, army and local US personnel use our facilities to benefit them in learning aviation skills, we are endorsed as a good organisation affiliated to the RAF Flying Clubs Association. I believe we have a core responsibility to develop service personnel skills and in no small way maintaining a tangible link with the Pathfinder Force of WW2. The latter is firmly embedded Cambridgeshire culture and that's why Huntingdon town hall is called Pathfinder House! IMV we are treated badly by DIO, we are left out of the loop in planning and correspondence, when we could further each other's aims and goals by working together. Of course we have no right to impact on any form of strategy in terms of land development and disposal, we clearly understand DIO has a job to do. On the other hand the Stn is an excellent supporter and we have an excellent relationship working hand in glove as operators on all airfield matters including military and civil helicopter operations. Why can't this be the case in dealing with DIO here at Wyton?

    • Replies to Paul Bailey>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Paul, thanks for reading.

      The Defence Infrastructure Organisation plays a vital role in Defence by providing what the Armed Forces need to live, work, train and deploy. Where facilities permit, the local Service Commander may authorise Clubs and Societies to operate for the benefit of Station personnel. The estate at RAF Wyton has undergone considerable transformation over recent years and DIO will further develop the estate over coming years to meet the evolving needs of Defence, in very close consultation with JFC and RAF Wyton staff.

      On behalf of the Station Commander, the RAF Wyton Airfield Manager remains in close dialogue with all users of the airfield and as you will know, holds regular meetings with the Flying Club and Airfield Operating Authority. As the appropriate interlocutor between DIO and the users of the facility, the Station Commander stands ready to receive any further concerns that you may have.

  4. Comment by Town Planner Brisbane posted on

    such a interesting article


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