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Prisk axed and brief changed to junior role as coalition accused of moving housing down the agenda

The government has been forced to defend its decision to replace Mark Prisk as housing minister with a new junior minister as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle this week.

Conservative MP Kris Hopkins replaced Mr Prisk as housing minister in a move that raised concerns that the role had been downgraded from minister of state level to under-secretary of state, which is the most junior level of minister.

National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said Mr Hopkins could make a “real difference” as someone who “understands housing and housing associations”.

But he said the NHF was “surprised and disappointed that, given the scale of the housing crisis and how crucial housing is to the country’s long-term economic recovery, the government has decided that the housing brief should be taken up at an under-secretary of state rather than minister of state level”.

EC Harris partner Mark Farmer said: “What kind of message does it send about the importance the government attributes to housing, particularly since the shadow Cabinet has a housing post at the shadow Cabinet table?”

Mr Hopkins said: “What’s important is the work we’re doing to deliver more homes and help hard-working people up the housing ladder, not the ministerial title on my red box.”

Labour also reshuffled its shadow Cabinet with former shadow Europe minister and MP for Wolverhampton North East Emma Reynolds replacing Jack Dromey, who was appointed to the housing brief in 2011.

Ms Reynolds attended her first shadow Cabinet meeting within 24 hours of her appointment.

A 10 Downing Street spokesman said the change in the level of the role was not a downgrading and pointed to the launch of the second phase of Help to Buy by the prime minister and chancellor on Tuesday as evidence that “the issue of housing is being led and looked at at the very highest levels of government”.

He added: “Sometimes in a reshuffle ministerial responsibilities switch and sometimes there is a shifting of ministers at different levels, but we would not want that to be interpreted as a lessening of our commitment to supporting housing.”

Home Builders Federation director of external affairs John Slaughter said the Help to Buy announcement by senior ministers showed housing was high on the government’s agenda.

“I cannot see any diminution of focus on housing across the government,” he said.

But he added that significant parts of initiatives such as Help to Buy came from other departments, such as the Treasury.

Mr Hopkins became the third housing minister within the coalition government, after Mr Prisk replaced Grant Shapps in the role 13 months ago.

Berkeley Group chairman Tony Pidgley said: “[Mr Prisk] was a surveyor by training so he understood housing. I would like to see continuity [ of ministers] so people can settle down and understand it.”

Mr Farmer added: “The danger in having a succession of housing minsters, as Labour had where there was one going every six to 12 months, is it becomes a constant learning curve.”

Mr Hopkins said he was “very humbled” to be asked to take on the role and looked forward to the challenges ahead.

His new brief includes housing; local growth, cities and regeneration; the Thames Gateway; troubled families; planning policy; and casework in relation to wind farms.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West Stephen Williams was made an under-secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government, where his responsibilities will include localism, Building Regulations, sustainable development and Building Regulations.

Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for construction Chloe Smith, who had been a prominent supporter of building information modelling, announced her resignation via Twitter, and was replaced by former Treasury minister Greg Clark.

EC Harris head of strategic research Simon Rawlinson said to have lost Mr Prisk and Ms Smith in the same reshuffle was “disappointing” for the industry, as “the last thing the industry needs as recovery takes shape is either a delay in existing initiatives, or a change in direction prior to the election – for example, on the government’s mandate on BIM”.

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