Fo­cus on af­ford­able prop­erty is pay­ing off for Coun­try­side

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By

Is­abelle Fraser COUN­TRY­SIDE has built 28pc more homes this year as the Gov­ern­ment boosts sup­port for the lower priced and af­ford­able prop­er­ties that it fo­cuses on.

The FTSE 250 com­pany builds pri­vate homes for sale and un­der­takes re­gen­er­a­tion of hous­ing es­tates. It said that in the year to Sept 30 it built 53pc more houses for sale than the year be­fore, from 783 to 1,197 homes, while com­ple­tions in its “part­ner­ships” arm in­creased by 17pc.

It ex­pects this di­vi­sion, which is be­ing helped by gov­ern­ment grants and other poli­cies, to soon be the big­gest part of the busi­ness. Ian Sut­cliffe, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “This means we can grow the busi­ness faster be­cause we’re not wait­ing be­hind a sales rate to build and it gives us greater re­silience. When the mar­ket starts to turn [our out­put of af­ford­able and rental homes] won’t slow down but could in­crease.”

The firm added that cus­tomer de­mand had re­mained strong, boosted by low in­ter­est rates and the Help to Buy pro­gramme, which has just been ex­tended by the Gov­ern­ment, and which is used on 53pc of Coun­try­side’s pri­vate sales. Mr Sut­cliffe added: “We’re re­ally pleased with the Gov­ern­ment reaf­firm­ing sup­port for hous­ing, and not just pri­vate for sale, but af­ford­able too, which plays well to our busi­ness.”

The av­er­age sell­ing price of Coun­try­side’s pri­vate homes for sale fell by 23pc to £515,000 in the pe­riod, as part of its plan to re­duce ex­po­sure to the sub­dued higher end of the mar­ket, which is suf­fer­ing from slower sales rates. Its or­der book in­creased by 8pc to £242.4m, and it boosted its land bank.

An­a­lysts at Peel Hunt said they “ex­pect Coun­try­side to be one of the fastest-grow­ing busi­nesses in the sec­tor in the medium term”, while Jon Bell at Barclays said: “The com­pany’s ex­po­sure to re­gen­er­a­tion schemes means that there can be an el­e­ment of de­tach­ment from wider mar­ket trends as it en­joys the ben­e­fits of lo­cal gains.” Coun­try­side’s share price firmed 1.2p to end at 349.2p.

Mean­while, fel­low house­builder Telford, which con­cen­trates on ar­eas in east Lon­don, said that the chronic hous­ing short­age in the cap­i­tal meant it had shrugged off un­cer­tainty in the mar­ket, partly due to its lower av­er­age sell­ing price of £530,000. How­ever, the com­pany said that due to the tim­ing of some of its de­vel­op­ments, its pre-tax profits for the six months to Sept 30 were likely to be lower than last year.

Its share price closed down 2.3pc at 398.75p.

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