Before that he was Professor of Geography in the University of London, with research interests in geomorphology (the study of landforms) as it applies to deserts, building decay, environmental change and environmental management. He has held several other academic posts, including Vice-Provost of University College London.
He has been President of the Royal Geographical Society, and chair of numerous agencies, charities and two companies, including Geomorphological Services Ltd, the Joint Information Systems Committee, the Yorkshire Arboretum, York Civic Trust and the City of York's Local Strategic Partnership and its Reinvigorate York project. He has been a trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry, Chair of the National Railway Museum Advisory Committee and member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
His interests in heritage range from landscape analysis and management, through the study of the quality of the public realm in heritage cities, to the decay of heritage buildings.
Two related publications are Crumbling Heritage? (with G Gibbs, 1993) and York-Changing the Face of the City (2016), a study of changes to heritage streetscapes.
Sir Ron is an Honorary Freeman of the City of York, a former Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.