Boss in the money after Berkeley's £20m payout

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The chairman of Berkeley, Tony Pidgley, will pocket £1m after the housebuilder he part-owns announced a £20m dividend pay-out.

It Is a flying start for the group's intention to return £1.7bn to shareholders over the next decade, and comes just two months after Berkeley investors backed a £294m bonus scheme for its leading executives.

Shares rose higher than 5 per cent after Berkeley said that pre-tax profits soared 40.7 per cent in the six months to November, from £101.1m to £142.2m.

The company has managed to outplay Britain's weak housing market by focusing on the South-east, where prices are strongest.

Revenues jumped almost 70 per cent over the six months to £686m, and the value of Berkeley's land bank increased 7 per cent to £2.8bn.

"These results are due to our £500m investments in land and build since 2008 in 50 projects across London and the South-east," the managing director, Rob Perrins, said. "There is still good demand, people still want to live in London."

A "confident sentiment" was, he claimed, behind the 15p interim dividend, the first payout to shareholders since the group returned £2 per share to investors almost five years ago.

Berkeley, which this summer spent £15m buying the 15-acre Wapping site that was once home to The Sun, Sunday Times and News of the World printing presses, said competition for land was on the up. "We're still selectively buying land. There are still opportunities in London, but there are more people buying land here, especially overseas buyers, such as the Malaysians buying Battersea Power Station [for £400m in July]," Mr Perrins added.

He said demand for homes in good locations "remained strong over the period, despite an uncertain economic backdrop and a net contraction in the UK economy".

Berkeley's current projects in the capital include The Tower at St George Wharf, Chelsea Creek, One Tower Bridge, 375 Kensington High Street, Ebury Square and 190 Strand.

* The housebuilder Bellway said the Government's NewBuy guarantee scheme had helped its property reservations – sales on which a deposit has been paid but the deal has not yet completed – to rise 6 per cent between August and November.