Carney ready to cool housing market

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has signalled he is ready to take action to cool Britain's surging housing market amid fears that a new property price bubble could derail the economic recovery.

Mark Carney said the biggest risk to financial stability were in the housing market
Mark Carney said the biggest risk to financial stability was in the housing market

Mr Carney said the Bank could adopt a range of measures - including imposing a new "affordability test" for borrowers and advising the Government to rein in its controversial Help to Buy scheme.

"We could do more, we could take steps around affordability to test whether or not individuals can afford mortgages at much higher interest rates," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"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."

Prime Minister David Cameron said the Bank had "all the powers they need" to prevent a new asset price bubble developing.

However Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that if the Governor advised that Help to Buy - which provides taxpayer-backed mortgages for first-time buyers - should be curtailed, ministers must act.

Mr Carney said that, 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," he said.

With housing prices now rising at a rate of 10% a year across the country - and significantly faster in some regions - Mr Carney said that the housing market now represented the biggest threat to the recovery.

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," he said.

"The biggest risk to financial stability, and therefore to the durability of the expansion - those risks centre in the housing market and that's why we are focused on that."

While he said that while 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".

"That's why we have to be vigilant," he said.

For Labour, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that ministers must heed the Governor's warning, otherwise the Bank could be forced to put up interest rates "prematurely".

"The Chancellor cannot wash his hands of what's happening in the housing market," he said. "Labour is clear that you can't deal with the cost-of-living crisis without building many more homes."

Campbell Robb, of the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter, said Mr Carney's comments underlined the need for the Government to bring forward policies to boost housebuilding.

"Mark Carney's comments will ring a bell with the young people and families who are hearing good news about the economy, but still aren't finding it any easier to climb on the property ladder and get on in life," he said.