UK house building hits lowest since 1946

House building fell to its lowest level for more than 60 years in 2009 - with just 118,000 new homes completed, according to government figures.

The number is the lowest since 1946, when official records began and represents a 17 per cent drop on the number completed in 2008.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that housing completions in England fell to 28,200 in the final three months of last year, down 3 per cent compared with the previous quarter and 12 per cent lower than the same quarter a year earlier.

The annual figure is less than half of the Government’s target of 240,000 homes a year and has been seized upon by housing charities campaigning to highlight the UK’s growing housing shortage.

Economists pointed to planned cuts in public spending as a further threat to the Government’s council house building programme, while housebuilders have blamed the ongoing lack of mortgage finance and shortage of available land for their inability to deliver more homes.

Annual housing completions peaked in 1968 at 352,540 but have averaged 148,000 dwellings since 1989. Shelter warned that it would take the industry at least a decade to recover to the Government’s target levels.

Kay Boycott, director of policy and campaigns at Shelter, the housing charity, said: “It is horrendous that we find ourselves in a situation where we are seeing the lowest level of house building in sixty years. It is no surprise that more and more young people are struggling to get a decent and affordable place to live.

“It is vital that this and future governments place investment in housing at the very top of their political priorities ... we are now very fearful that the industry will take at least a decade to recover to deliver the homes we desperately need.”

Oliver Gilmartin, senior economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said: “The latest figures are disappointing and underline the continuing difficulties facing the construction industry. An urgent re-assessment of the procurement route for bringing housing to market is critical as market mechanisms have clearly not worked over the last two decades.

“With sharp cuts in public spending in the coming years, available public money for housing will have to be used more intelligently and there will need to be additional effort to ensure that private investment is brought into the market.”

About 6,000 new social homes were built in the final quarter of 2009. RICS said: “With almost 1.8 million households on council house waiting lists, this shows just how big the gap is between supply and demand for affordable housing.”, 18 Feb 2010

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