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John Prescott's major commitment to the hugely contentious use of design codes is on the verge of being written into planning law, it has emerged A new publication, the draft Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3), shows just how convinced ODPM mandarins have now become that the controversial planning tool must be used in future housing schemes, such as the Thames Gateway, observers have said.

Design coding is heavily backed by the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organisation very close to the Prince of Wales, which Prescott has increasingly asked to advise him on planning issues.

In response, the RIBA is now writing to the ODPM, warning that the draft PPS3 is too vague and could allow the use of design coding to go too far. Senior 'gures in the institute are understood to fear that it will lead to 'pattern-book design'.

Design codes are considered by many to threaten architectural diversity as they can leave very little to the imagination of architects.

As evidence, critics point to the fact that coding was used in Seaside in Florida, which acted as the backdrop to Hollywood blockbuster The Truman Show, and Prince Charles' Poundbury.

The draft PPS3 document states: 'Detailed design guidance, such as urban design guidelines, design codes [and] detailed masterplans of site briefs can help improve the quality and value of a residential development and, once in place, can accelerate the developmentcontrol process.' 'A design code may be developed for specific allocated sites or areas indicated for development in the core strategy. Local authorities should set out in policies in their plan where design codes would apply, ' the document adds.

Urban Design Group director Rob Cowan said the document was good news for the supporters of design codes. 'It certainly seems that the decision has been taken to promote design codes more vigorously than before, ' he said.

'It is now important to ensure that the codes are well drafted if they are going to be implemented, as most planning documents are awful, ' he added.

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