Project Highlights:

  • Development of new spatial decision support tools to bring brownfield land back into beneficial use
  • Driving innovation in digital land-use planning
  • Using innovative numerical modelling and multi-criteria decision analysis methods to enhance the value and understanding from large spatial data sets
  • An opportunity to undertake your PhD based at the British Geological Survey, with access to world class environmental science facilities
  • CASE funding and industry partners WSPGroundsure Ltd. and Homes England
  • 3 month industry placement to gain relevant work experience


This CASE PhD studentship is intended to produce a major step forward for the sustainable reuse of brownfield land by developing innovative spatial decision-support tools using multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methods. Tools will be trialled and developed to quantify sub-surface constraints including soil and groundwater contamination and land instability.

Currently disparate spatial datasets and data architecture support the land-use planning system. A range of formats, resolutions and types of data are held by various stakeholders, making unified and systematic geo-processing difficult. Gaining intelligence from large environmental datasets is a key challenge for modern society that underpins the UK Industrial Strategy (Infrastructure and AI & Data) (BEIS, 2017). Even more so when the challenge relates to building new homes and businesses on post-industrial brownfield land, another key UK Government policy (House of Commons, 2016; BEIS, 2017). The Government target is to build 300,000 new homes per year for the next 20 years, where brownfield land will be prioritised.

Innovation in digital planning is facilitating a step change in the planning system to speed up the delivery of new homes (Future Cities Catapult, 2016). This CASE PhD studentship is designed to provide the scientific knowledge and understanding needed to advance this area for risk-based brownfield land redevelopment.

New approaches to spatial decision-making for brownfield redevelopment will be produced by working with end-users including WSP and Groundsure Ltd., (CASE partners) and Homes England (Industry Advisor). Example applications include estimating soil and groundwater remediation costs for large urban areas, site-based maps of the geotechnical properties of soil and their suitability for certain types of building foundations and multi-hazard constraints mapping. Common to each is the spatial data processing and which algorithms are selected to describe relationships between the datasets and the problem being evaluated – this is MCDA and where the scientific challenge lies.

The student will work with industry, government and academia to co-design, co-develop and co-deliver innovative spatial decision support tools to solve current challenges facing the widespread reuse of brownfield land. Project outputs will be directly applicable to the UK but also provide significant export opportunities, especially for official development assistance countries.

Figure 1: Urban brownfield ground risk mapping using multi-criteria decision analysis


The student will become familiar with landuse planning decision-making and risk-based brownfield redevelopment. She/he will collect, analyse and evaluate relevant spatial datasets, identify potential gaps and opportunities. A detailed review of MCDA methods and applications will inform the direction of the research. The student will work with the CASE partners and other end-users to co-design the research questions being tested. The student will co-develop and deliver an interface/dashboard for the outputs using state-of-art visualisation tools for risk communication. A three month placement will be completed with the CASE partners to enhance understanding of their application of the research.

Presentations at national and international conferences will enhance their understanding of the end-user community and raise the profile of the research. The student will be expected to produce at least one peer-reviewed publication. The methods selected for this research will enhance the science impact of the research and increase international export potential.

Training and Skills

To complement CENTA training, the student will participate in the following development activities:

  • 3 month CASE partner internship with WSP and Groundsure: to gain real experience in communicating risk and using visualization tools; to provide a sound backing in general probabilistic methods for dealing with uncertainties within the natural environment;
  • Specialised training in spatial data analysis, data management, processing and modelling at BGS and Cranfield; and
  • BGS and Cranfield training programmes focused on technical knowledge through access to specialist modules (e.g. multimedia modelling) and research methods (e.g. critical literature reviews); and personal effectiveness through the transferable skills training sessions.



The CASE PhD student will conduct a literature review on the following:

  • Risk-based brownfield land management
  • Multi-criteria decision analysis in environmental and spatial decision-making
  • WebGIS, end-user interface and other method used to visualise spatial data

The student will become proficient in managing, visualising and conducting geospatial and of data. Relevant training will be provided where required. A research plan comprising sections on problem identification, hypotheses, methodology, results and application will be produced.


The CASE PhD student will spend 3 months at WSP and Groundsure to learn about risk-based land management as well as environmental data management and provision. The placement experiences will help improve her/his research plan and maximise impact. The student will spend the remainder of the year implementing the research plan. The student will attend and present at national conferences.


The student will complete her/his research plan and start writing up, which will include at least one peer-reviewed paper published in a high impact journal. The student will attend and present at national and international conferences.


The student will complete her/his write up as well as attend and present at national and international conferences.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The team is uniquely placed to manage a highly impactful CASE PhD. Dr. Beriro, is a senior geoscientist at BGS, NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow and has a strong pre-academic background in applied geoscience. Prof. Coulon is an internationally recognised environmental chemist. Prof. Thomas is an internationally recognised ground contamination specialist and Technical Director at WSP. Mr. Hardy is the research manager for Groundsure, a market leading data provider for the environmental markets. WSP and Groundsure are CASE partners and private sector end-users. Homes England will provide technical input and access to real-world data for its national portfolio of brownfield sites.

Further Details

For further information on the CASE PhD project please contact either Dr. Darren Beriro at the British Geological Survey (darrenb@bgs.ac.uk) or Prof. Frederic Coulon at Cranfield University (f.coulon@cranfield.ac.uk).

This PhD will be hosted at the British Geological Survey (BGS). As the BGS cannot award degrees, applicants must in the first instance apply to Cranfield University: https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/research/phd/the-central-england-nerc-training-alliance, where they will be registered.

In addition to this they should send by email to bufi@bgs.ac.uk a current CV, names and addresses of two referees, personal statement written by the candidate, no longer than 1 page of A4, containing project title and detailing their reasons for applying to study a PhD and why they have selected their chosen doctoral research project

The student will be based at the Cranfield campus at Cranfield in Bedfordshire -  https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/About/How-to-find-Cranfield

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

  • Annual tax free NERC stipend, set at £14,777 for 2018/19 + £1,500 per year uplift from CASE funding
  • Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000 for expenses incurred during study e.g. conferences, travel, subsidence, training
  • CASE funding from WSP and Groundsure Ltd. to supplement the RTSG, including 3 month industry placement with the CASE partners