Government begins first major review of private housing policy for seven years

David Cameron’s policy tsar, Oliver Letwin, is leading a major review of housing strategy as the government attempts to ensure more homes are built.

The secret review, which involves a small coterie of staff at the communities department, will be the first extensive examination of private housing delivery since economist Kate Barker conducted hers in 2004.

No public announcement or reference has been made to the work, which goes under the name of the Letwin Commission, but the Cabinet Office confirmed it was being dealt with by the communities department.

It is understood the review will go back to policy basics, and in particular examine how to ensure more development land becomes available.

The commission’s work is thought to tie in with repeated comments by housing minister Grant Shapps about government taking steps to ensure stable long-term house prices.

So far Shapps has given no indication of what policy measures are being considered.

One source, close to the situation, said: “It is reviewing the market, land supply and how that supply might be improved.”

A separate source said that even ideas from the left of the political spectrum, such as land value taxation and the role of the state in bringing land forward, were being examined afresh.

The Commission started work before Christmas, and sources say early thinking is likely to feed into the budget.

Another source said: “The spending review was a very quick process. Now there’s a real desire to go back to the radical questions that there wasn’t time to consider.”

So far the Letwin Commission has not shared its ideas with any of the relevant trade bodies or formally involved the Homes and Communities Agency.

Letwin, minister of state at the cabinet office, has been given a free-ranging role by Cameron as minister for government policy advice, after providing the thinking behind the Tories’ 2010 election manifesto.

Kate Barker’s review concluded that house prices could only be kept in check by allowing the construction of more than 200,000 homes a year in the UK, compared with the 88,000 started in 2009/10.

A DCLG spokesperson said: “As Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, meets DCLG Ministers to discuss a range of policy matters from housing to local government, just as he is working with every department to help them deliver their business plan objectives.