The number of NHBC registrations to start building new homes fell to 106,894 in 2008, a drop of 47% on a year earlier.

But it is the comparison of the final quarter of 2008 with that of 2007 that brings the true scale of the trauma in the house building market into sharp focus.

The industry started fewer than 30% as many homes between October and the end of the year in 2008 than a year earlier.

Look closer and it is evident that the private house building sector is starting roughly a quarter of the number of homes it was a year ago. Private starts are currently falling so fast that it is likely that they will soon fall below the numbers being started by the public sector.

It is this data that leads NHBC to its expectation that starts will fall to 85,000 in the current financial year.

The completion figures on the face of it look more buoyant, falling just 20% in the year from 186,505 for 2007 to 149,238 for 2008.

But with so much housing in blocks of flats, there is an urgent need for house builders to complete and sell as quickly as possible.

These figures come as official data from the US shows that construction of new homes is plumbing new depths as the recession there deepens.

This does not bode well for the UK as the crude evidence suggests that what the US faces today we face some months later.