City council planning committee convener Trevor Davies claimed that efforts to make the city's waterfront an architectural showpiece and to build a second New Town are being hampered by the involvement of mass-market builders.
"We are, in the waterfront, building the largest planned development to happen since the 18th and 19th centuries, when all of the New Town was built," he said. "We are trying to have a kind of thoughtfulness, but we have to work with the Barratts, the Persimmons and the Wimpeys to deliver that vision."
Davies suggested that many private developers are unfamiliar with contemporary examples of outstanding design, such as Poundbury in Dorset.
But the construction companies working to develop the capital's waterfront expressed surprise at the comments. A George Wimpey spokesman said: "Our development will offer the perfect mix of private space as well as access to good-quality transport links, leisure facilities and recreational amenities."