Wilson Bowden warns planning reform stoking prices

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Wilson Bowden accused the Government of fuelling house-price inflation with its planning policy yesterday, as it reported no easing in the strong market for new homes. Announcing interim figures, the housebuilder said the already slow system for obtaining planning permission was getting worse, exacerbating the shortage of new homes.

Ian Robertson, the finance director and deputy chief executive, said: "There is almost perverse strength in the housing market, given the economic environment.... Part of the reason for that is shortage of land. The Government is stoking house price inflation by not making enough land available."

He pointed out that an additional layer of bureaucracy had been added to the planning process for large development schemes. "The applications get called into regional government and they appear to be languishing there. The backlog is lengthening," Mr Robertson said.

This reform, introduced last year, aims to use regional government offices to ensure planning rules are applied universally across the country. Mr Robertson said he was hopingthe forthcoming Green Paper on planning, due this autumn, would address the inefficiencies of the system, which he said was damaging residential and commercial markets.

Wilson Bowden reported a 14 per cent rise in pre-tax profits for the six months to 30 June, from £51.7m last year to £58.8m. The average selling price of its houses rose 14 per cent to £172,200. The group does not operate in London.

Mr Robertson said no let-up in demand or prices was apparent: "The market looks fairly set. There was no evidence of a slowdown over the summer. Volumes are on the increase."

The company said it had rejected the consolidation pursued by some competitors. "Our figures show that we can grow organically. Acquisitions are essentially about buying landbanks. This year, we'll spend £300m on buying land. That is equivalent to a medium-sized acquisition. And we get to pick and chose the sites ourselves."

In the property development market, which accounts for a fifth of group activities, Wilson Bowden said the economic slowdown was apparent, especially in the South-east office market.

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