Home thoughts from the new Minister who's aiming to put his house in order

Grant Shapps is slightly late for his visit to the St George's Crypt homeless shelter in Leeds but his schedule is packed and it's pleasing to see that work seems to be taking priority over vanity.

His creased shirt is straight out of the cellophane packet and there's clearly no time for ironing after hitting the ground running in his new role as Housing Minister

Since starting the job six weeks ago, the minister has already abolished Home Information Packs (HIPs), made a start on the planning system, done away with the proposed register of landlords, scrapped a quango and begun tackling the housing shortage. He's now deciding how to make 25 per cent cuts to his budget.

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The savings will come, he says, in his own Department for Communities and Local Government and he'll be getting rid of more of the 27 quangos.

The good news is that Government support for homeless projects won't be affected.

"I want to put it at the forefront. It's important to look after people, who are, by definition, bottom of the pile," he says, obviously impressed with the facilities at St George's Crypt that were part-funded with a 1.1m grant by the last government.

The money has been spent on creating individual bedrooms for rough sleepers, updating the cafe space and introducing new training and arts programmes for those who have found themselves with no place else

to turn.

Homelessness is a subject close to Mr Shapp's heart. A few years ago, he slept rough on Christmas Eve to highlight what he saw as the failures in the system and now on the front benches he has set up a ministerial working group to look at the problem. His is a wide brief and with the property slump one of the defining moments of the last couple of years, housing is not a portfolio everyone would relish.

When the plug was pulled on the building boom, getting a foot on the housing ladder became but a distant dream for many and the fall-out continues. It is early days for the coalition government, but there is some positive news for first-time buyers too. Labour's generous HomeBuy Direct, shared equity package offered on some new developments, looks set to remain.

"That scheme has worked well and I hope to continue it but the social housing Homebuy less so, so we will be looking at that," says Mr Shapps, who has aspirations for everyone to own their own home but admits it's getting harder.

The average age of the first-time buyer is 37 and the situation is exacerbated by banks refusing mortgages or demanding the kind of deposits few can afford to pay. The banks, who up until recently seemed to have a bottomless pit of money, are also being blamed for failing to lend to developers desperate to build new homes.

"There is a huge deficit in terms of the number of homes. But we are sorting out the foundations by tackling the budget deficit and the economy," says Mr Shapps, who admits that the shortage – a one million shortfall of new homes – is his biggest challenge.

We built 113,000 homes in England in 2009-10, about 100,000 fewer than we need and the strain on existing stock is being keenly felt in many areas.

His big idea is cash rewards for councils who grant permission for new builds. The house building targets imposed on local authorities have gone and that stick replaced by a carrot.

Under the scheme, the council tax paid by people living in every new home built will be matched by the Government for six years and if the council grants permission for social housing, then every 1 of council tax will be matched with 1.25.

Local authorities that don't give permission for new homes, will be forced to raise council tax and if they want to raise it by more than 5 per cent they will have to hold a referendum on the issue.

Builders, already miffed at the crackdown on garden grabbing, which sees gardens recategorised as greenfield rather than brownfield land for planning purposes, are sceptical about this reward scheme.

They say that Nimbyism will win out and local councillors fearful of a voters backlash will opt for council tax rises rather than grant permission for new homes. "I don't agree. I believe it is a powerful incentive. If a council grants permission for 10,000 homes they will receive 100m over six years. It will make pro-development electorally popular.

"That money can then be spent locally on improving the local area," says Mr Shapps, whose next stop is the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Harrogate dedicated to social housing. The first point he makes to the conference is that he isn't just another new boy. He shadowed the last four housing ministers and knows what he's talking about. He tells them that in the Tory spirit of localism, he is giving housing associations more power free from Government interference. Vague but not too ominous.

There's relief that he's keeping the Homes and Communities Agency, aimed at boosting housing and regeneration. But it will be slimmed down. A delegate from Sheffield is glad to hear that he's big fan of Housing Market Renewal Schemes, which use Government money to regenerate or rebuild homes in run-down areas.

The bad news is that the Tenant Services Authority is first on what CIH chief executive Sarah Webb refers to as "the quango bonfire".

The body that aims to raise social housing standards will be axed. He sees it as a wasteful and pointless costing 35m a year to run. It also spent 100,000 on lobbying the Government that set it up in the first place. Tenant panels "with teeth" will do a better job, he believes.

There's not a huge amount of dissent in the auditorium and though there are many natural Labour supporters in the crowd, the consensus seems to be that he is affable, charming and knowledgeable, but they'll "wait and see".

Those who know the back story of the 41-year-old father of three, who survived Hodgkin's lymphoma and a car crash that put him in a coma, are already impressed with the ambitious member for Welwyn Hatfield, who is said to be using his new post as springboard to bigger things. They could be right. More than one conference delegate remarked that Grant Shapps reminds them of Tony Blair.