SECOND home ownership is increasing across Swindon, prompting fears that first-time buyers are being priced out of the housing market.

The number of second homes in the town jumped by more then 229 per cent in only two years.

Government figures revealed that 56 second homes are registered this year ­ up from just 17 in 2003/4.

The increase is higher than neighbouring North Wilt-shire, where estate agents have seen the number of second homes being bought in the area rise by four per cent from 537 to 556.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper accepted rising second home ownership was causing youngsters difficulties buying their first home as they are being priced out of the market.

The Government is now considering whether new planning laws are needed, in addition to other measures introduced by the Govern-ment, to curb the spread of second homes.

Ms Cooper said: "The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recognises the concerns about the impact of second home ownership on the affordability and availability of homes for local people.

"We have accordingly taken a number of steps to alleviate housing pressures in areas with high levels of second home ownership, especially in rural areas."

Measures include reducing the council tax discount for second homes and changes to planning policy designed to increase the provision of affordable homes.

As promised in Labour's General Election manifesto, the Government last week launched a review of housing provision led by the new Affordable Rural Housing Commission.

The commission will be headed by former Channel 4 News political editor Elinor Goodman.

The Liberal Democrats have warned that the boom in second home ownership will only be encouraged by new pension rules laid down by Gordon Brown.

From April 6 next year, savers will be allowed to use their pension to invest in property.

Lib Dem community and local government spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "The Government has opened the door to a tidal wave of investment in second homes.

"But there are already record numbers of second homes, with young people being priced out."

John Harding, owner of Charles Harding estate agents, said the statistics were now out of date, and that the increases referred only to the beginning of the two-year period.

He said: "The property market has dipped. It was fashionable to buy a second home but prices were very much lower then.

"The market is now coming back towards first-time buyers."

Joe Thompson, manager of Colin Pike and Partners in Commercial Road, said: "From our point of view there is no problem at all for first-time buyers.

"In fact I wish there were more of them around."