Mortgage lending highest in years

Mortgage lending last year reached a six-year record of pounds 71bn, Barclays Bank said yesterday in a survey that confirmed the buoyant state of the housing market.

At the same time, the CBI reported that retail sales over the Christmas period were well up on a year earlier, though it was not the boom predicted by some retailers.

According to the CBI distributive trades survey, which covered sales from 5 December to 2 January, 52 per cent of retailers reported higher levels of business and 19 per cent said they were down.

This left a positive balance of 33 per cent reporting growth, only marginally more than the balance of 31 per cent a year earlier. However, the CBI said the three-month average suggested that underlying growth of retail sales "remains fairly strong".

Barclays found that there were more than twice as many home buyers as sellers in the housing market, with one person in six looking for a new home but only one homeowner in 13 prepared to sell.

Those most likely to put their homes on the market lived in London and the South-east, where prices rose last year.

There was an increase of two-thirds in public confidence that house prices would rise over the next 12 months, said the bank. In London and the South- east 69 per cent believed the value of their homes would increase over the period.

The Barclays survey coincided with evidence of a sharp rise in housing starts, with a 15 per cent increase in the three months to November compared with the previous three months.

Economists at Schroders, the merchant bank, forecast house price inflation this year of 10 per cent, followed by 8 per cent next year, and said house price gains would exceed mortgage rates for the first time in seven years.

Building societies have suggested 7 to 8 per cent growth in house prices.