'Resurgence' in house building
New figures show that the number of house building starts in England has risen by almost one-third since the same time last year.
Building work began on some 36,450 homes during the first three months of 2014 - 11% up on the previous quarter and 31% higher than the same period last year - said the figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said that the seasonally adjusted figures showed the Government's Help to Buy policy was creating a "resurgence in house-building", with new projects now at their highest level since 2007, before the financial crash.
Over 27,000 people have now taken advantage of Help to Buy, which offers mortgage guarantees on homes worth up to £600,000 for buyers who are struggling to raise a deposit of more than 5%. Private house-building has increased by 34% since the scheme's launch in April last year, said DCLG.
Annual housing starts totalled 133,650 in the 12 months to March 2014 - up by 31% compared with the year before.
However the building figures remain below the norm during the pre-crash years, when starts consistently topped 40,000 in each three-month period.
Private home-building was 15% higher than the previous quarter at 30,410, but housing association starts were 22% lower on 4,950. Building work begain on some 1,090 council homes - up from just 200 in the last three months of 2013 and the highest quarter figure for 23 years.
Meanwhile, DCLG said that local authority Right to Buy sales have quadrupled since discounts to buy council homes were increased in April 2012, from 2,638 in 2011-12 to 11,238 in 2013-14.
Mr Pickles said: "In 2010 we inherited a situation where builders couldn't build, buyers couldn't buy and lenders wouldn't lend.
"Today's figures show we're turning this around, with Help to Buy not only helping aspiring homeowners but also leading to a resurgence in housebuilding.
"Thanks to this and the reinvigorated Right to Buy, we're ensuring anyone who works hard and wants to get on the property ladder will be able to do so."
Stewart Baseley, executive chairman at the Home Builders Federation, said: "The Help to Buy equity loan scheme has supported demand for new build homes. House builders responded immediately, and we have now seen a big increase in the number of homes being built.
"This is providing desperately needed homes and also creating jobs on sites across the country and in the supply chain. Whilst the number of equity loan scheme sales is very small in terms of the overall housing market, it is driving up new housing supply.
"The scheme's extension provides certainty about longer-term demand for new homes. This is allowing the industry to plan ahead, rebuild capacity lost in the downturn and deliver the homes the country needs."
But Chris Walker, head of housing and planning at thinktank Policy Exchange, said: "We are still building about 100,000 too few homes to keep up with demand. The disappointing com pletions figures suggest this isn't going to change anytime soon.
"Policy-makers need to get Britain building urgently if future generations stand a chance of becoming part of the home-owning democracy.
"Auctioning off land for local people to design and build their own homes where councils fail to meet their local house-building targets is one way to increase numbers. Likewise establishing new, attractive garden cities with local support will create housing that benefits all generations."
Labour housing spokeswoman Emma Reynolds said: "The truth is the Government has failed to tackle the growing housing shortage which is central to the cost-of-living crisis. Under David Cameron the number of homes built has fallen to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.
"We need to build many more homes to keep up with demand. Owning a home is out of reach of many low and middle-income earners, and rents are rising faster than wages.
"While the increase in housing starts is welcome, the number of homes actually built over the past year is less than half what we need to meet demand and is lower than every year under the last Labour government.
"Labour is clear that you can't deal with the cost-of-living crisis without building more homes. That's why Labour has committed to getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020. Labour is also committed to reforming the private rented sector by banning rip-off letting agent fees for tenants and introducing long-term stable tenancies with predictable rents."
Homelessness charity Shelter warned that the country was still building fewer than half the homes it needs.
Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: "Any uptick in housebuilding should be welcomed, but the worrying reality is that we are still building less than half the homes we need.
"Successive governments have failed to build enough homes to keep up with demand, and the result is thousands of young people and families forced to watch their dream of a home of their own slip further and further out of reach, leaving them stuck in the rent trap or living in their childhood bedrooms.
"Everyone agrees that we need to build more homes, but sticking plaster solutions like Help to Buy or tweaks to planning rules will never tackle the hole in our housing market.
"Solving the housing shortage is possible, we just need politicians to roll up their sleeves and commit to the solutions that will create a healthier house-building market for the long term: from boosting small builders with government guarantees, to getting land into the hands of those who can build the affordable homes we need."