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She has a sound business background but is Lorraine Baldry best suited to chair the Thames Gateway Urban Development Corporation?

Point one in a lesson (if it existed) of how to give the 'right' answers when being interviewed by an architectural journalist would be: do not reply to questions about the importance of good design with the fantastically vague response: 'I have not really given that much thought just yet.'

Based on this certainty, it can be gauged that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's normally effective media training programme does not include an architectural module.

How does the AJ know this? Because, rather extraordinarily, the new chair of the Thames Gateway Urban Development Corporation (UDC), Lorraine Baldry, managed to give exactly the wrong answer to this fundamental question.

It is almost impossible to emphasise just how unexpected this is. With almost every breath, ODPM ministers and press officers try to underline its commitment to architecture and design in its massive housebuilding exercise. There is no chance, they promise, that the Thames Gateway will end up looking like a homogeneous plain of redbrick Noddy-boxes.

And yet the powers that be (and we can only assume that they are headed by deputy prime minister John Prescott himself ) have chosen as the chair of this super-planning authority an individual who has no background in architecture and expresses almost no interest in it when questioned.

What on earth can have bought about this situation? It seems that the major motivation behind Baldry's appointment is New Labour's slightly stale buzzword, 'delivery'.

Because if there is one thing Baldry does know about, it is delivering delivery.With an almost perfect business background, the former chief executive of the Prudential's property empire and boss of London property agent Chestertons, will almost certainly deliver the houses the South East is crying out for.

But what kind of houses? Could it be that this appointment has something to do with the recent Barker Report, the study commissioned by chancellor Gordon Brown into Britain's housing supply. The report advised that more houses were needed, but made very little of the quality of design.

Brown is known to want new homes and want them now. And he is hardly known as an aesthete or an architecture buff. If he had any sympathy towards architects, he would have lowered VAT on brownfield development years ago.

So could it be that the former investment manager's appointment reflects more the Treasury's building rush than the ODPM's apparent commitment to quality buildings?

Nothing that Baldry says during our 20minute chat persuades me otherwise.

One thing, though is reassuring. She promises that there will be 'no repeat' of the London Docklands Development Corporation's policy of riding roughshod over both the policies of local authorities and the feelings of local people.

It is interesting that this seems to be the most on-message remark that Baldry summons up. 'We fully intend to work with the all the planning authorities in the Thames Gateway, ' she says. 'We understand that local knowledge is all important and we also value the experience this brings.

'Also, we are not going to be a large organisation and we will need to farm out much of the planning work back to the councils, ' she says, sounding unconvinced. One wonders what the point of a UDC is, if it is going to allow planning authorities and councils to make many of the decisions. Do I feel the creation of another pointless quango coming on, Mr Blair?

It transpires that the UDC's board will be made up of 12 members. Five will be from the local councils, one from the Greater London Authority, and the six remaining places will include Baldry herself.

So what does she hope this new planning body will achieve while she is around? 'What I do know is that there are a lot of areas that really need regenerating and many people that need homes. I want us to make sure these places are substantially improved.

'I do not know the areas particularly well, ' she says. 'But I have seen at first hand the way that regeneration can improve an area because I have lived in Islington for 30 years.

It is unrecognisable from the place that I first moved to.'

This seems like a strange admission for someone who will have to both appeal to and appease the fine people of east London.

Coming from the 55 year old, the word 'Islington' seems more like a statement of New Labour credentials than a convincing argument that she will understand the needs and aspirations of those who live in the hinterland between the capital and Essex.

So back to the most pressing issue at hand. If Baldry does not have any background in, or, seemingly, an understanding of the key significance of good housing design, who will be taking charge of this most important area?

'We have not really decided that kind of thing yet. We are not even up and running.

At the moment I am the UDC on my own as we have not appointed anyone else yet, ' she stresses rather defensively.

'I want to ensure that we are a small organisation with a small staff. I would have thought that design advice is the kind of thing we will get from outside the set-up.'

Outsourcing architectural knowledge?

Islington-style regeneration? Commercial property experience? Concerns about these questions remain sadly unanswered as the 20-minute slot comes to its end.

Surely the government will not allow the Thames Gateway to become yet another sea of little red boxes, so beloved of developers in the 1980s and 1990s? Only one thing is certain, Baldry's appointment seems to point in that direction.

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