July 25, 2018 / 11:20 PM / 25 days ago

Slump in London house-building weighs on UK housing starts

LONDON (Reuters) - British builders have cut back sharply on the number of new homes they plan to start in London, taking the shine off industry data which otherwise remained near its strongest since the global financial crisis.

FILE PHOTO: A builder assembles scaffolding as he works on new homes, in south London June 3, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo

Builders reported plans to start work on 12 percent fewer homes in London in the three months to June than a year before, the National House-Building Council, an industry body that insures about 80 percent of new construction, said on Thursday.

Just 2,917 homes were slated for construction, the smallest number for this time of year since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009 and less than half the number started a year before 2016’s Brexit vote.

London recorded the most new housing starts of any British region between 2010 and 2015. But since then its housing market has weakened due to concern that Brexit will hurt its financial sector and its appeal to foreign investors, as well as higher purchase taxes on homes costing over 1 million pounds.

Housing starts increased in most other parts of the United Kingdom during the second quarter. But the decline in London meant the overall total dropped 3 percent on the year to 38,978, its lowest for the time of year since 2014.

“Demand for new homes across the UK remains strong,” NHBC Chief Executive Steve Wood said. “We have seen some promising numbers coming through, in particular during May and June.”

House prices in London dropped by 1.9 percent on the year in the second quarter of 2018, the only region of the United Kingdom to show a fall, according to figures from mortgage lending Nationwide Building Society.

Last month London-focused housebuilder Berkeley (BKGH.L) warned pre-tax profits would fall by 30 percent this year, blaming a lack of large development sites as well as higher property purchase taxes and the effect of Brexit.

Housebuilders cut back on buying large sites in 2013 and 2014 when prices started to rise after the financial crisis, which now was reducing the flow of new homes, Berkeley said.

LABOR SHORTAGES

Shortages of European construction workers are also pushing up construction costs in the British capital, according to a separate report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, also released on Thursday.

“Brexit and the uncertainty of labor from EU countries has affected labor resources on construction sites. This, in turn, has made tender sums increase without increasing contractor profits,” RICS member Christopher Mills said.

New housing starts in the United Kingdom overall rebounded by 6 percent from the first three months of 2018, when unusually snowy weather delayed work.

NHBC’s measure of quarterly housing starts slumped below 17,000 during the depths of the financial crisis, before recovering to peak at 42,423 in early 2017, helped in part by government subsidies for buyers of newly built homes.

Boosting house-building has been a stated priority for Britain’s government as it tries to address concerns among many voters about a lack of affordable housing in many areas.

But many in the industry say little has been done to speed up the local government planning process that makes it slow to get approval for many projects.

RICS said difficulties financing projects were also causing growth to slow.

“Anecdotal evidence suggested that the housing market slowdown, coupled with ongoing ambiguity with the Brexit negotiations, is weighing on investment decisions,” RICS said.

Reporting by David Milliken, editing by William Schomberg and Jon Boyle

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