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The younger son of Leonard Howes OBE and Marion Howes (née Bussey), he was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and the University of London, where he graduated BSc in 1965. He is also a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors 1966, and holds a M.Phil from the University of Reading, 1975. Hon DLitt from the University of East Anglia.
Howes's career has spanned the public and private sectors. In 1965-1967 Valuation and Planning Department, the Greater London Council. from 1967-1978 he was Steward and Honorary Surveyor the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. He has served as an adviser to Local Authorities[which?]. He was a member of Norwich City Council, and a magistrate in Norfolk. He was a founder member of the Theatre Royal Trust, the Cotman Housing Association and the Norwich Third World Centre.
He was Deputy Director of Land Economy and then Director of the Land and Property Division for the Department of the Environment from 1979 to 1989, Visiting Professor at University College London 1983 to 2001; Chairman of the World Land Policy Conference 1984, and the OECD's Urban Policy Group 1985.
From 1992-1999 he was a trustee for HRH The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture; from 1995-1998 a Member of the Secretary of State for the Environment's Thames Advisory Board, and a Member of the Court of Advisers of St Paul's Cathedral.
From 1989 to 2001 he was the Second Commissioner and Chief Executive of the Crown Estate in the United Kingdom. It includes large area of Central London including Regent Street, over half of UK's forests, hundreds of farms and other rural estates, and the whole of the British seabed between the coast and the twelve-mile international limit. In 2006, the annual income of the Crown Estate was around £200 million. He also served as a member of the Princes Council, the Duchy of Cornwall, and as a Council member of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Since 2001 he has been an adviser to Barclays Capital and a member of the Advisory Board of Barclays Private Bank. He is a member of the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall; Deputy Chairman of Howard de Walden Estates; Adviser to the Marcol Group; a member of the Investment Committee of St Paul's Cathedral; a board member of the British Architectural Trust; a trustee of the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust; a trustee of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, and patron of the Heatherley School of Fine Art.
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- 1965 to 1967: The Greater London Council
- 1967 to 1979: Professional practice in Norwich and London
- 1979 to 1989: Director of Land and Property Division of the Department of the Environment
- 1982 to 1989: Second Commissioner of the Crown Estate
- 1989 to 2000: Chief Executive of the Crown Estate
- 1993 to 2005: Member of Council of the Duchy of Lancaster
- 1998 to 2004: Non-executive director of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society
- 2005 to 2007: Non-executive Chairman of the Barclays Bank Property Finance Team
- 1991 to 2011: Member of The Princes Council of the Duchy of Cornwall
- 2001 to date: Member Advisory Board Barclays Private Bank
- 2001 to date: Advisor Barclays Property Finance Team
- 2001 to date: Director of the Howard de Walden Estate
- 2002 to date Director of the Colville Estate Ltd
- 2001 to date Director of Compco PLC
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- 1975: Senior Visiting Fellow, School of Environmental Sciences,University of East Anglia
- 1976-1981: part-time lecturer, Department of Land Economy, the University of Cambridge
- 1974–1980: Visiting Lecturer, University of Reading
- 1982: Visiting Lecturer, University of Aberdeen
- 1983: Visiting Lecturer, UCLA and USC
- 1984 to 2001: Visiting Professor, The Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College London .
- 1985: Visiting Lecturer, Harvard University
- 1985: Visiting Lecturer, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and University of Miami
- 1990 to date: Member of the Court of the University of East Anglia
- 1993: Companion of the Order of the Bath
- 1997: Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
- 1999: Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
- 2000: Honorary DLitt of the University of East Anglia
- 2002: College of Estate Management Property Award
- 1995: Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects
- Acquiring Office Space (1975) (joint author)
- Value Maps: aspects of land and property values (1979)
- Economic Regeneration (monograph, 1988)
- Urban Revitalization (monograph, 1988)
- Papers in learned journals