Regeneration of Former Coastal Defence Sites in the South East of England: developing a community-focused assessment framework for military heritage

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: Portsmouth School of Architecture
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Antonino Di Raimo, Dr Karen Fielder, Dr Ann Coats

Project code: ACES4340218

Project description

The strategic location of the city of Portsmouth on the south coast of England means that it has long been exploited for the defence of the nation, and has an abundance of military heritage dating Roman times. Portsmouth Naval Base has been integral to the city since 1194, and it is home to almost two-thirds of the Royal Navy’s surface ships including most recently HMS Queen Elizabeth, the biggest warship ever built by the Navy. The military legacy of the city and its environs includes castles at Portchester and Southsea, Victorian fortifications including Palmerston Forts perched on Portsdown Hill and in the Solent,and Hilsea Lines marking the limits of the island city. Specialised 20th-century structures comprise the Grade II listed 1950s Gosport submarine escape training tank and Cavitation Tunnel designed and built in Germany to test the impact of water on propellers and brought to Gosport in 1945. This remarkable body of military heritage lends a distinctive quality to the built environment of the city and the wider region, and creates a powerful urban identity. 

However the recent rapid reorganisation of national military defence capabilities and priorities in response to changing geopolitical conditions, recession and developments in military technology have led to operational redundancy, defence cuts and contraction of defence estates.  Historic properties formerly dedicated to national defence activities are now becoming obsolete, are being disposed of, and are subject to redevelopment. This transformation from military to civilian use is highly complex and challenging, presenting a range of issues which can developers and leave sites abandoned and redundant for long periods. In the South East region of England, 40% of historic sites designated by Historic England as ‘at risk’ are coastal defence sites, the highest proportion of any region in the country. These are defined as highly designated sites that are most at risk of wholesale loss of significance as a result of decay, vacancy or inappropriate development. 

Furthermore, whilst defence activities continue to provide significant employment opportunities in Portsmouth, defence cuts and the knock on effect of these on associated industries and services present a threat to a city which already has areas of high levels of deprivation. Pockets of Portsmouth and Gosport are within the top 10% of areas of deprivation in the country. The presence of redundant and decaying military structures in these neighbourhoods has a symbolic resonance in the collective memory of communities. They stand as bleak emblems of a more prosperous past and of shared endeavour in pursuit of national interest.

With many more defence sites in the region due to be disposed of imminently by the Ministry of Defence there is an urgent need to develop strategies and tools for the successful rehabilitation of these sites for civilian purposes. The redundancy of historic military sites is a global concern, and some specialist research literature is beginning to emerge including Clark and Bagaeen’s ‘Sustainable Regeneration of Former Military Sites’ (2016). Historic England (formerly English Heritage) has commissioned a number of publications on military heritage assets over the past two decades, such as Coats et al, C20 Naval Dockyards Characterisation Report (2015), but as yet there is no clear guidance for their rehabilitation. A subset of dockyard buildings on the at risk register, which for security reasons cannot be released, lack an operational budget and are inadequately maintained. Moreover,Local Planning Authorities cannot serve Urgent Works notices on Crown land, despite the removal of Crown Immunity from Planning Acts in 2006.

Through reviews of best practice, a developed understanding of the issues and opportunities for local military heritage, and an exploration of existing strategic guidance for sustainable regeneration of heritage sites,this project aims to develop a specific framework to guide the sustainable reuse of former defence property with a particular focus on the south coast of England. The framework will address understanding cultural significance, capacity for change, issues and opportunities and new design guidance, as well as the desires and aspirations of local communities. In so doing, this research will make an important contribution towards rehabilitating redundant military heritage and returning it to centre stage in the life of the city and its occupants.

Supervisor profiles

Dr Antonino Di Raimo

Dr Karen Fielder

Dr Ann Coats

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Antonio Di Ramio at (02392 842950) or Dr Karen Fielder at (02392 842103).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: ACES4340218

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only.

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