Nationwide Building Society yesterday said property prices moved forward by 0.8 per cent in July, compared with a rise of 0.3 per cent in June and 0.2 per cent in May.

The annual rate of growth stands at 5.9 per cent - more than double the rate seen last y ear when prices were increasing at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent.

Fionnuala Earley, economist at Nationwide, said the strong rate of growth reflects the weak patch in prices this time last year. "Indicators of market activity suggest that housing market demand remains fairly buoyant. "This will help to support prices, at least in the short term."

The data backs up figures released this week from the Bank of England which showed mortgage approvals reached their highest level in five months in June.

The Bank said mortgage approvals reached 120,000 in June - up 3,000 from May, reflecting the strength of the housing market.

And last month the Bank revealed that mortgage debt had topped £1 trillion for the first time.

But the housing market may slow down if the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee chooses to increase interest rates tomorrow.

Yesterday's figure from the Nationwide was stronger than expected, following forecasts in the City of a rise in the region of 0.4 per cent.

Figures from the Halifax are due later this week and will be closely watched by the Bank of England as it stages its monthly meeting.

Analysts believe the pick-up in the economy, combined with a recent surge in inflation, will lead to a rise in interest rates from 4.5 per cent later this year. Some experts are fore-casting an increase as soon as this week.

The survey adds to the growing weight of evidence that the UK house prices are picking up strongly, a fact which will concern rate-setters at the Bank of England and strengthen the argument for a rate rise in the coming months.

Analyst Howard Archer at Global Insight said: "The more hawkish members of the Monetary Policy Committee may see the renewed pick-up in housing market activity and prices as boosting the case for a near-term interest rate hike."

Though most expect the MPC to leave interest rates on hold this week, the vote is expected to be a close call, with some members opting for arise.

The firming of house prices in July was "clearly a consequence of the recent renewed strengthening in housing market activity", Mr Archer said.

House prices "may well see further marked increases in the near term", but affordability constraints will eventually cap prices, he said.

The Nationwide study showed the average price of a house in the UK was now £167,733 - £9,385 more than last year. However, the survey was not conducted on a regional basis.

A study last month by the Commission for Rural Communities highlighted fears that a migration of wealthy residents from West Midlands cities was fuelling a property price surge in rural areas and creating a housing crisis for residents.

The 2006 State of the Countryside report found that average price of a home in the West Midlands Countryside was £246,779, compared with £144,267 in urban areas.

The average house price in Herefordshire over the last five years had rocketed from £87,132 to £204,757, in Lichfield from £110,000 to £208,303 and in Malvern from £101,151 to £199,626.