Mortgage approvals and consumer credit rose unexpectedly in July, but weak mortgage lending pushed total net lending to its lowest since March, Bank of England figures showed on Tuesday.

The figures reinforced analysts' views that British house prices -- a major driver for consumer morale -- have reached a plateau, and are vulnerable to further falls if the economic outlook darkens.

The Bank said mortgage approvals numbered 48,722 in July, rising from an upwardly revised 48,562 in June but well below the 21-month peak of 59,117 hit in November.

Economists had forecast a reading of 46,500 on average, and said the stronger data was not enough to shift their downbeat view on the prospects for British house prices.

It is still about half the pace we were seeing through most of the last decade, said Alan Clarke, UK economist at BNP Paribas.

It suggests housing is going nowhere fast, and when disposable incomes are going to be under pressure, it is not going to help the consumer do anything apart from pedestrian spending growth.

Many economists are worried that Britain's economy may slow sharply next year, due to weakening growth in export markets and looming cuts of around a quarter to the budgets of most government departments.

Net mortgage lending was significantly weaker than forecast, falling to just 86 million pounds from a downwardly revised 518 million pounds in June, well below economists' predictions of a rise to 700 million pounds.

This was the weakest reading since March, and dragged down total monthly net lending to 258 million pounds from 460 million. This decline came despite a better-than-expected performance from consumer credit, which rose by 173 million pounds after a 59 million pound drop in June.

Separate figures showed the Bank's preferred money supply gauge -- M4 excluding intermediate other financial corporations -- was unchanged on the month, the weakest reading since January.

While aggregate monthly M4 growth was up 0.4 percent, its strongest reading since October last year, annual M4 growth slowed further to 2.3 percent, its weakest since the data series started in July 1983.

There was further evidence that the pick-up in the monetary policy committee's preferred measure of the money supply earlier this year was just temporary, said Capital Economics' Vicky Redwood. With money growth still weak, more quantitative easing might still be needed.

Members of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee have discussed loosening monetary policy at their past two monthly meetings. However, most economists still believe the central bank is likelier to tighten policy rather than loosen it.

A GfK/NOP survey on Tuesday showed British consumer confidence unexpectedly improved in August for the first time since February thanks to a more positive view on the economic outlook.

(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)