NHBC figures show that registrations and sales fell about 20% – even on 2008’s disastrous levels

The number of homes started by housebuilders last year fell to its lowest level since records began, according to NHBC statistics.

The figures show that 88,083 homes were registered to start with the NHBC last year, a fall of 18% on 2008; this is the first time the number has dropped below 100,000. Of these, 55,911 were private homes for sale, down from 72,114 in 2008. The

previous low watermark for the NHBC, which started collecting data in the fifties, was 131,000, in 1992.

This is despite the fact that house prices have unexpectedly risen 9% from their April low last year, according to the Halifax.

Trading updates from volume housebuilders in the past week confirmed that they are looking to open sites but indicated they are unlikely to build many more homes in 2010 than in 2009.

Despite the perception of 2009 as a better year for housebuilders than the collapse of 2008, the NHBC statistics also show that average weekly sales for NHBC-registered builders were, at 339, actually 21% less last year than the 431 recorded in 2008.

Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of the NHBC, said: “What we've seen is the mother of all corrections and a very sharp recession. And while we are seeing some encouraging signs, the industry's ability to ratchet production back up is limited owing to the skilled labour that has been lost.” The figures show the number of homes completed fell from 148,000 in 2008 to 116,000 in 2009.

Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser to the House Builders Association, said the continued lack of mortgage lending meant things were unlikely to get better any time soon.

He said: “It should be remembered that these figures are this low despite, over the past year, the largest infusion of public money into the sector for a very long time, an infusion that must be very high on the list of potential cuts for any incoming government.”