Local authorities should follow the lead taken by government and appoint design champions to promote good buildings, culture minister Alan Howarth told this week's Building for the Future conference.
Howarth said better quality control was required over local authority construction projects.

He said: "I would urge local authorities and other public bodies to appoint someone at the highest level to ensure that the quality of their own public buildings receives the emphasis it needs." Howarth hinted that central government would come down heavily on departments that failed to deliver well-designed buildings.

He said: "I don't know if the prime minister has something up his sleeve, but he is taking a very close interest and any minister not sufficiently committed [to good design] could be disadvantaged." Howarth is one of the 12 ministers acting as a design champion in a department. He said their job descriptions were still being drawn up but they could have sufficient power to veto schemes that did not meet high design standards.

He said: "Ministers worth their salt will know how to wield influence and blow the whistle." NHS Estates chief executive Kate Priestley, who also spoke at the conference, emphasised that the Department of Health was committed to quality in hospital design.

Priestley said NHS Estates was pressing individual trusts to appoint watchdogs to ensure that there was a proper emphasis on maintaining design quality.

I don’t know if the prime minister has something up his sleeve but he is taking a very close interest in good design

Alan Howarth

She said: "We are encouraging every trust to appoint a design champion because having a focus on design leads to design improvements. Good design may result in lower maintenance and repair costs." Priestley also added that NHS Estates, which has a capital investment programme of £7bn for the next nine years, also wants to run design competitions.

Construction minister Beverley Hughes also called for improvements in urban design skills.

She said CABE chairman Sir Stuart Lipton was due to report to the DETR shortly with his recommendations. Lipton has chaired a small group that is looking at skill shortfalls in urban design.