A SEARCH is on for the best new building in York. So I am trying to remember the word for people who design buildings. It begins with the letter "a", doesn't it? Oh, here it comes, popping out of the mental mud: "Accountant".

Oh, I know it's really architect and perhaps I am being too cynical. But so many of the buildings erected in York these days seem to have more to do with money than design. What a grind it must for architects to be equipped with all relevant skills and yet condemned to draw up plans for identikit money-making schemes requiring almost no imagination.

York is far from alone in a lack of inspiring new buildings, as a report from the Commission For Architecture And The Built Environment (CABE) made all to gloomily clear earlier this month.

More of that in a moment, but let's return to the York Design Awards.

The Lord Mayor of York, Coun Janet Hopton, is promoting the awards, which have the support of institutions including York Civic Trust, English Heritage and City of York Council - and the backing of this newspaper, which is lending its weight to the People's Award.

Now I am all for celebrating buildings, but on reading of this search for good examples of buildings completed in York between 2004 and 2006, my first thought could be translated politely as: "My, that will be a challenge." Or less politely as: "Bloody hell, will they find any?"

Two examples given to encourage people to vote for their favourites are an office block in George Street, and the new shops on the corner of Spurriergate.

I confess to being underwhelmed, especially by the shops. When these shops were under construction, a vast space opened up, and it was tempting to imagine a fine square off Spurriergate with shops and cafés round its edges.

Such fantasies were soon stamped on as the space disappeared, to be filled in by a standard building. Handsome enough, but nothing special.

I am not against shops as such, and have a fondness for the building in Davygate containing Borders and others. It is attractive and a great improvement on the sixties monstrosity it replaced some years ago.

A good view of this building is afforded from the top floor of the Italian coffee chain diagonally opposite - a place which, incidentally, is now free of smoke, and all the better for it.

To return to the report from CABE, this found consumers were being short-changed, with 82 per cent of new housing built in the past five years failing to measure up on design quality. The housing audit cited, among other faults, family housing with no play areas; windows facing blank walls; poorly lit areas; confusing sites with no focal points; and broad expanses of Tarmac.

Such problems are highlighted by the huge number of flats being built here and elsewhere. This is not to condemn those who buy flats. Heaven knows, people have to live somewhere and flats are often the only option in these hyper-expensive days.

But if housing is left solely in the hands of big business, what we get are commodity homes - fast-buck flats, apartments and houses, all thrown up to the same template. And all built primarily to make money, rather than to improve their environment or provide proper, fully functioning homes.

It doesn't have to be this way. Look, for example, at St Andrewgate, a fine mix of new and restored housing bang in the centre of York.

This doesn't qualify for the awards, sadly, as it dates from the 1980s. On the downside, it is also now very expensive.

Look, too, to Park Grove Primary School in York - almost destroyed by fire ten years ago this month, but then reborn as a functional and inspiring building, combining the best of the old and the new. Why aren't more old buildings resurrected in this way?

Here's a closing thought. York is full of good and sometimes remarkable buildings, virtually none of which date from modern times. This city's ancestors down the centuries left much for future generations to be cherish and admire. Just what are we leaving behind?