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Planning system `pushing up land prices'

Wilson Bowden, the Leicester-based house-builder, yesterday warned that delays in the planning system were leading to overheating land prices as the housing market picked up.

David Wilson, chairman and chief executive, said a major land shortage was pushing up prices. "They have gone up by 20 per cent over the past year, which is irritating because it is entirely due to the shortage created by the planning system, which we are powerless to do anything about."

He said there was absolutely no reason why, after a planning inquiry had been held, it should take the minister 18 months to decide whether a development should be allowed to go ahead.

Mr Wilson called for local plans and planning inquiries to be speeded up.

He was speaking after his company announced a 68 per cent jump in pre- tax profits to pounds 29.1m for the six months to June.

The interim dividend is being raised 10 per cent to 3.3p, from earnings per share 72 per cent ahead at 21.2p.

The strong results came on the back of a 34 per cent jump in house sales, to 1,468, and an 11 per cent rise in the average selling price to pounds 113,500.

Mr Wilson said the good figures were the result of a stronger market in the part of the country south of Northampton and the expansion plans put in place two years ago.

Forward sales for the second half are currently running 20 per cent ahead of last year and the company is ahead of its target of achieving 3,000 house sales by the end of 1998.

But Mr Wilson said he did not think the housing market was overheating.

"We would be surprised if there was a need for interest rate rises or anything like that," he said.

The figures included 160 sales by Trencherwood, the small house-builder acquired last year, against 250 in the whole of 1996.

There was also an pounds 8.1m operating contribution from property development, up from pounds 4.5m before.

The company is expecting a considerable increase for the full year as well, with further office developments in Sheffield and Nottingham to come through in the second half.