UK's Cameron speeds up launch of controversial housing plan

Reuters

By William Schomberg and Estelle Shirbon

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Britain's prime ministerlaunched a critical week for his party's run-up to the 2015elections by unexpectedly bringing forward the launch of amortgage guarantee programme that critics say risks stoking ahousing bubble.

Conservative leader David Cameron said on Saturday that theplan would be up and running next week, three months earlierthan previously planned.

The "Help to Buy" plan is aimed at people who have beenfrozen out of the property market by the soaring size ofdeposits required to get a mortgage.

"Young people who've got a decent job and have got decentearnings - they cannot buy a house or a flat, because they haveto have a 30,000-pound ($48,400), 40,000-pound or 50,000-pounddeposit," Cameron said in a statement.

"Now, if you haven't got rich parents, you can't get thatsort of money. So we're going to launch the Help To Buy Scheme -it's not coming in next year, it's coming in next week, becauseI'm passionate about helping people who want to own their ownflat or home."

The initiative involves the government providing 12 billionpounds in guarantees to encourage lenders to provide mortgagesof up to 95 percent of the value of properties being bought.

It had been due to launch in January and key details such asthe fees banks will pay to participate have yet to be announced.

Cameron's announcement comes on the eve of the start of theConservative Party's annual conference in Manchester. Suchoccasions are used by British political parties to makeeye-catching announcements and this year offer the chance forthem to set out their programmes before a general election duein 2015.

Earlier this month, opposition leader Ed Miliband said agovernment run by his centre-left Labour Party would freezeenergy bills for 20 months, a move aimed at winning over Britishvoters, many of whom have seen their living standards fallduring the slow economic recovery from the financial crisis.

Signs that Britain's economy is on the mend had boosted theConservatives' standing among voters, but Labour's support hasrisen in opinion polls since the announcement by Miliband. AYouGov poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour at 42 percent, withthe Conservatives at 31 percent. Cameron's coalition partners,the Liberal Democrats, languish at 9 percent.

CONCERNS IN THE COALITION

Seeking to give a boost to homeownership carries risks forthe government. Since the mortgage guarantee component of Helpto Buy was announced in March, house prices have picked up,raising questions about whether it is still needed.

Britain's business minister, Vince Cable, a LiberalDemocrat, has expressed his concerns about the programme.

House prices rose at their fastest pace in more than threeyears in September, one set of housing data showed on Friday. InLondon, prices have jumped by nearly 10 percent over the past 12months, although other regions have seen barely any increase

In a nod to the concerns about a new boom, Britain's financeminister, George Osborne, last week asked the Bank of England tokeep a closer eye on the impact of Help to Buy.

Both Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney havepointed to activity in the housing market that is well below itspre-crisis peak as a sign that there is no new housing boom.

Ed Balls, Labour's would-be finance minister, responded toCameron's announcement on Saturday by saying the governmentshould bring forward investment to build more affordable homes,denouncing what he said was the lowest rate of house-buildingsince the 1920s.

"Unless David Cameron acts now to build more affordablehomes, as Labour has urged, then soaring prices risk making iteven harder for first time buyers to get on the housing ladder,Balls said in a statement.

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