Westbury eyes John Laing's homes unit to boost South-east exposure

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The housebuilder Westbury is considering a takeover bid for the homes division of John Laing, the construction group, to boost its share of the South-east market and help it double sales for the next five years.

Martin Donohue, Westbury's chief executive, said that Laing's housebuilding arm, worth an estimated £300m, would be a good strategic fit with his group.

The division, which has annual sales of £381m, has attracted the attention of Westbury and rival Bellway. "If you want to be a main player in the long term, you can't be so and not be in the South-east," Mr Donohue told Bloomberg News.

Commenting on the recent wave of consolidation that has hit the sector, Mr Donohue said: "The first flush of results tends to suggest it's tactically and strategically the correct thing to do."

Laing, which is in the process of selling its property development division, is reviewing its strategy to reposition itself as a specialist infrastructure-investment group. A decision on whether to sell its homes division will be made in May, the company said.

Westbury, which is based in Cheltenham, has been eyeing acquisitions since it bought John Maunders for £55m in 1998. The purchase of Laing's housebuilding arm, which reported pre-tax profits of £53.3m in 2001, would catapult it into the lucrative London market, where it currently lacks a presence.

Laing, which fell into the red last year after running over deadline on a string of public-sector contracts, is seeking to reduce its debt, which stood at £167m at the end of 2001.