Housing starts hit nine-year high, but completions slip according to official housebuilding figures

Housing starts hit the highest level since 2007 in the three months to December, although completions dipped, according to officials figures.

A total of 41,620 new builds started on site in the fourth quarter of last year, up five per cent on the previous quarter and 13 per cent higher year-on-year.

Private housebuilders started work on 35,320 homes in Q4, with housing associations accounting for another 5,740. Local authority housing starts stood at 560, up from 370 in the previous quarter and the highest figure since January to March 2015.

Housing starts were up by 143 per cent compared with the low recorded in the three months to March 2009 but were still 15 per cent below the peak in March 2007.

Starts for the year to December topped 153,370, up five per cent on the previous 12 months.

Total completions were estimated at 35,980 between October and December, down four per cent on the previous quarter and two per cent lower year-on-year.

There were 29,090 completions by private developers, down five per cent on the previous quarter, and 6,470 by housing associations, up one per cent. Local authorities completed 420 homes, up from 410 in the previous three months.

There were 140,660 completions in the year to December, one per cent lower than the previous 12 months.

An estimated 250,000 homes are needed every year to meet demand.

The figures follow the publication of the Government's Housing White Paper which aims to fix the “broken” housing market by removing obstacles to building and requiring every local area to produce an up-to-date plan form meeting housing demand.

Housing minister Gavin Barwell said: “We’ve got the country building again with the highest number of housing starts for nine years. However, we know there's more to be done to build more homes in the places that people want to live.

“Our Housing White Paper sets out an ambitious set of proposals to deliver more land, speed up build out, diversify the housing market and support people who need help now.”

The industry has shown “admirable robustness through the dark days” said Andy Sommerville, director at Search Acumen with housebuilding starts in England soaring to their highest level since the financial crisis in 2008.

“Affordability remains a huge hindrance in our property market in tandem with a clear deficiency in supply,” he added. “But the government has demonstrated its commitment to housebuilding as the number of new dwelling starts increased by 5% from 2015. Schemes like Help-to-Buy are increasingly linking first-time buyers with new development, which has proved a successful incentive for housebuilders.

“However, this increase was mainly driven by private enterprise activity as housing associations suffered a decrease in dwellings started, suggesting more needs to be done in this area of the market. In addition to this, statistics revealing the amount of dwellings completed in 2016 showed a small drop in volume year-on-year, perhaps reflecting the year’s economic turmoil more realistically and therefore suggests that we cannot expect a flurry of new homes on the market just yet. This being said, with more residential property in the pipeline and future ploys for the housing market included in the White Paper, we can look ahead with more optimism than we’ve had in recent years as the industry continues to tackle our so called housing crisis.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has accused the Government of “cherry picking their statistics for a decent headline”.

Housing completions are now 26% below where they were in 2007, he said, highlighting how “impossible the government’s housing target of 225,000 to 275,000 will be to achieve based on their current plans”.

“It will be like their immigration target - not met, not delivered and will, in time, erode public trust,” he said.

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