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Bank could rein in house market

MARK Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has signalled he is ready to cool the rising heat in parts of Britain's housing market with new restrictions amid fears a new property bubble could derail the UK's economic recovery.

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Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear the Lib-Con Coalition could take measures to rein in its Help to Buy scheme south of the Border, saying if Mr Carney believed "we need to pare back on some of the government schemes like Help to Buy, then we should do so".

Thus far, the scheme has helped people buy 17,000 homes in the first nine months of operation with almost nine out of 10 being first-time buyers. Yet 75% of the purchases were outwith the property hot-spots of London and south-east England.

Any reining in of the UK Government scheme could ultimately have a knock-on effect on the Scottish Government's similar initiative, but this looks unlikely any time soon.

Only last week Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, announced another £40m would be invested in the Scottish Help to Buy scheme, taking the total assistance to date to £275m.

The initiative has already helped more than 1100 Scots buy a new home since it was introduced in September last year. Ms Sturgeon made it clear the scheme in Scotland had provided "much needed economic growth" by boosting the construction industry.

In London, house prices are already 25% above their 2008 peak and are now rising at a rate of about 18% a year; the average home in London now costs more than £450,000.

By sharp contrast, average house prices in Scotland are only now approaching the peak levels seen before the recession with the average price £161,873, up just over 4% on last year.

The measures open to Mr Carney - short of raising interest rates, which are still unlikely for some time yet - include imposing a new "affordability test" on borrowers to test whether individuals could afford mortgages at much higher interest rates.

"We could limit amounts of certain types of mortgages that banks could undertake, we could provide advice - the Chancellor has asked us if we would provide advice on changing the terms of Help to Buy - all those things are possibilities and we will consider them all," explained the Governor.

He said, ultimately, the "deep, deep structural problems" in the property market - with demand far outstripping supply - could only be addressed through a major expansion of the housing stock.

"There are not sufficient houses built in the UK," said Mr Carney.

He expressed particular concern about the return of large mortgages - more than four times a borrower's salary -- which were associated with the financial crash of 2008 and which were, he said, "creeping up" again.

"We don't want to build up another big debt overhang that is going to hurt individuals and is very much going to slow the economy in the medium term."

While Mr Carney said Chancellor George Osborne's flagship Help to Buy scheme was still a "relatively small programme", it had the potential to grow and "could change attitudes in other parts of the mortgage market". He added: "That's why we have to be vigilant."

Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, said Coalition ministers had to heed the Governor's warning, otherwise the Bank could be forced to put up interest rates.

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