John Prescott has catapulted good design to the centre stage of planning reform with the publication of Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS 1), the draft replacement for PPG 1.
The document - which outlines 'a general overview of the objectives for the planning system' - places high-quality design at the heart of planning decision-making.
Observers have largely welcomed the statement, agreeing with government claims that it will improve the current system and increase the role of design.
However, the RIBA insists the document is disappointing because it removes the 'causal link' between architects and design quality.
PPS 1 unveils several core objectives, for the first time linking 'high standards of building design' and the 'achievement of sustainable development'.
'High-quality design ensures usable, durable and adaptable places and is a key to achieving sustainable development, ' it says. 'Planning policies should promote high-quality design for new development areas and individual buildings.'
It also reveals a programme of increased community involvement in the choice of design options. 'There is a need for the planning system to be more transparent, accessible and accountable, and to actively promote participation and involvement, ' the report says.
Planning minister Keith Hill claimed the document would serve to increase public support for the planning system. 'Our draft sets out a vision for planning, to which planners will want to respond positively and show what they can do, ' he said.
'Good planning is crucial to the development the country needs, to make sure it is sustainable, well-designed and actually improves people's quality of life. I want to see new buildings which satisfy the needs of those who live and work within them and reflect the character of the area.
'Planning has a critical role in pulling together the various strands of economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection, which are critical to sustainable development and underpin the sustainable communities plan, 'Hill added.
The document has also won the backing of Christine Russell, the chair of the House of Commons All-Party Group on Planning.
'If this document was around when I was chair of planning on Chester City Council I would have been delighted, ' she told the AJ.
'The number of times I wanted to reject buildings on the basis of design quality alone and wasn't allowed was very frustrating.'
AT A GLANCE
The planning system should be used to encourage sustainable development.
Community involvement is essential for the success of the planning system.
Quality design is essential for sustainable development.
Quality design should be a tool to reduce crime, improve streetscapes and increase accessibility.
Development control should be used to encourage economic growth.
Planning should focus on resource management and ecological concerns.
'We are pleased with this statement but not delighted.We think that it could outline more detail on how good design can be achieved through the planning system.But the fact that the government has recognised the relationship between quality design and sustainable development can only be seen as a positive.'
Esther Kurdland, CABE planning policy adviser
'It is a shame that there are only two mentions of architecture in the whole thing - I am not sure what we are supposed to read into this.However, there is a good commitment to building design and hopefully this will be seen in the planning system of the future.
It is only a shame that the government has not shown this commitment in its own building programme.'
David Dunster, Liverpool University professor of architecture
'If I said it was wonderful then it would be something of an overreaction, but I must say it is very good. It fills in many of the gaps that were missing from the Planning Bill.Architects should also be pleased with the document.Although it is brief, the government's commitment to design quality is there for all to see.'
David Baraclough, RTPI planning policy manager
'The increased significance of good urban design is helpful, as is the requirement that Local Planning Authorities should not impose 'a particular architectural taste or style arbitrarily'. I also believe that PPS 1, once adopted, will carry great weight and materiality in policy making as well as deciding planning decisions, so it all seems pretty helpful.'
Brian Waters, architect and planning consultant
'We think it is disappointing.We think it should include more on design quality and it should put a focus on the relationship between achieving good buildings and the involvement of architects. It says that it is aiming to achieve good design, but it seems to have failed. It is too weak in too many areas.'
George Ferguson, RIBA president