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Professor Richard Cowell

Professor Richard Cowell

Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning

School of Geography and Planning

+44 (0)29 2087 6684
2.74, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3WA
Available for postgraduate supervision


Richard Cowell is Professor of Environmental Planning. He has thirty years’ experience of researching the relationship between planning and environmental sustainability, with particular interest in the dynamics of integrating environmental concerns into policy and decision-making. A recurring theme in his research is to understand the conjunction of elements – policy, politics, actors, knowledge – that come together to institutionalise more robust approaches to environmental sustainability, and why that happens in some contexts and not others.

Richard has applied his expertise to environmental assessment techniques and concepts (e.g. natural capital-based concepts of sustainability, ecological footprinting and green infrastructure). He has also conducted significant research into the dynamics of transitions towards more renewable energy systems, especially the spatial dimensions of such transitions and the conflicts that arise around energy infrastructure development. Since 2015, Richard has been researching the implications of Brexit for UK environmental policy and the interface with planning.

As well as his substantive expertise, Richard has extensive experience in the design and conducting of interviews and focus groups, and in providing advice to government and professional organisations. His work has been published widely in international journals across the planning, energy and environmental policy fields. He has also produced a number of books, most recently The Routledge Companion to Environmental Planning (with Simin Davoudi, Hilda Blanco, and Iain White).



  • BA Hons Geography, Cambridge University, (1990)
  • PhD, (1995)


Prior to arriving at Cardiff, Richard completed undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the Department of Geography, Cambridge University. Whilst there, he worked as a researcher for the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (UK CEED). Since arriving at the School of Geography and Planning Richard has held appointments as a Research Fellow (1996-2000), Lecturer (2000-2005), Senior Lecturer (2005-2011), Reader (2011-16) and Professor (2016-present). 

Honours and awards

In 2009 Richard was a joint winner of the RTPI Teaching Excellence Award for the innovative teaching and learning methods used in module CPT737Sustainability in Practice (with Dr Jon Anderson).

Professional memberships

Member of Editorial Board for Planning Theory and Practice (2007-present).
























My teaching focuses on the environmental dimensions of planning, at all levels, from introductory teaching for first year undergraduates through to adanced post-graduate programmes. Within this I have delivered specialist teaching on aspects of planning for sustainability, the role of planning in promoting transitions towards sustainable energy systems, and planning and infrastructure.

Over a twenty-five year teaching career, I have held a large number of teaching management roles, including year tutor, course director (for undergraduate and post-graduate programmes), and helped to set up and run the innovative PLANET Europe programme, a two-year Masters degree involving a collaboration between Cardiff University, Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands) and the Swedish School of Planning in Blekinge, Sweden.

My research interests focus on how systems of land use planning, and public policy more widely, might be re-shaped to better promote environmental sustainability. I am interested in conceptual debates about the interpretation of sustainability and theories of policy change, but I am always keen to discover what can be learned from actual cases where struggles over the environmental acceptability of plans, projects and policies is taking place. The relationship between planning and environmental and energy policy is a particular interest.

I have applied these broad interests to questions about: the effects of planning reforms on environmental sustainability; how planning interfaces with energy transitions, especially infrastructural developments like renewable energy; and the effects of changing governance scale on dynamics of planning and environmental conflicts. Whether new environmental concepts or evaluation tools change the way that environmental concerns are treated in planning is of interest to me, as is the effects of beliefs about the substitutability or restorability of nature. 

I have recenty completed a number of research projects:

1) I was part of a team working on the ESRC-funded research project 'Divergence, dismantling and contestation: Brexit and the repoliticisation of UK environmental governance', which is part of the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative (see ). I remain an associate of the Brexit and Environment network (

2) I led a project examining the possible future relationship between the UK planning system and EU environmental directives after Brexit, for the Royal Town Planning Institute (

3) A closely related project is a study of the possible effects of Brexit on UK waste policy, identfying a number of scenarios. See

4) With Jan Webb at Edinburgh University, I delivered a scoping study into the efficacy of Local Area Energy Planning, for the Energy Technologies Institute and Energy System Catapult (see report at

5) With colleagues in the Universities of Liverpool and Dundee, I have just completed an evaluation of the scope to use Strategic Environmental Assessment to better embed environmnental priorities in the planning system, for NatureSAcot.

6) In the energy field, I acted as mentor to two research fellow, Dr Carla de Laurentis (2019-2020; funded by the ESRC: and Dr Stanislav Martinat, EU-funded COFUND Fellow (2018-2020;

Within the School of Geography and Planning I am a member of the Environment Research Group.


I am interested in supervising prospective research students with the following interests:

  • Planning and environmental sustainabilty (including the dynamics of policy change, the effects of new concepts, the construction and impact of environmental regulations, goals and targets)
  • Transition towards sustainable energy systems (including issues of infrastructure roll-out, the interface with planning, the effects of community benefits and communityownership)

Past projects

Recent PhD projects:

I have been first supervisor for the following PhD students:

  • Rebecca Windemer - 'Managing (im)permanence: End of life challenges for the wind and solar energy sectors' (awarded 2020)
  • Alister Foreman - 'Energy and equity revisited: the case of community energy and fuel poverty in Wales' (awarded 2020)

I have been co-supervisor for the following PhD students:

  • Ella Furness - 'Ecological restoration and connection to nature' (awarded 2018)
  • Tara Hipwood - 'Understanding teleological influences on owner-occupier home improvements: implications for encouraging low carbon retrofit.' (awarded 2018)
  • Richard Samuels - 'A multi-level perspective analysis of the change in music consumption 1989-2014' (awarded 2018)