Housing minister Nick Raynsford's latest attempt to improve housing design in the UK was hit by claims last week that the government's own planning inspectorate is undermining him.
The AJ has learnt that England's newest city, Wolverhampton, is considering taking the inspectorate to court after it overturned the council's decision to reject a suburban residential scheme.
The council's chief planner, Costas Georghiou, described the houses as 'a bog standard development' which failed to take account of distinctive local features and lambasted Raynsford over the inspectorate's 'tragic decision' at a conference on housing design last week.
'The community is upset, the council is upset, ' he told the minister. 'They say what is the point in following government guidance when the planning inspectorate contradicts the backing to good design you claim to give.'
He said the council's submission in defence of its decision included a string of references from recent government policy documents, such as the Urban White Paper and By Design. The council is now taking legal advice.
The confrontation followed demands from Raynsford for housebuilders and local authorities to follow government planning guidance and improve the design of new housing.
He lashed out at 'standard anywhereville dreariness' of recent schemes by volume housebuilders and challenged local authorities to 'have the courage to say no to bad ideas that undermine housing planning guidance PPG3'.
PPG3, revised one year ago this month, demands better designed housing which uses more brownfield land.
'People have become fed up with what new house building has done across the country, ' he told a national conference on housing design quality. 'There is a backlash against unimaginative and poor quality design generated through the predict and provide process. If what we build today is to be of enduring quality, we have to ensure applicants take good design seriously. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get planning for housing right. We must convince a worried public that this job can be done, properly.'
Raynsford also reiterated his call for higherdensity housing and rejected planning policies which demand new housing to be at the same density as existing buildings.
'I am not advocating a 'back to the 1960s' future of high-rise developments, ' he said. 'My aim is places designed around the needs of people.'
However, he did admit that achieving a change in culture at the planning inspectorate, for which he is responsible, is 'like turning round a supertanker'.