English housing starts fall sharply in last quarter of 2019

Quarterly housing starts in England have fallen 17 per cent year on year, suggesting that efforts to boost housing delivery had begun to tail off even before the coronavirus outbreak hit the development sector.

Construction: housing starts down 17 per cent year on year. Image: Flickr / Ben Sutherland
Construction: housing starts down 17 per cent year on year. Image: Flickr / Ben Sutherland

Seasonally adjusted figures published by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government show there were 34,260 housing starts during the three months to the end of December 2019, down 11 per cent on the previous three months, and a 17 per cent decrease on the same quarter in 2018.

Completions remained relatively stable at 44,980 for the quarter, down one per cent from the previous quarter but up three per cent compared to the same period a year ago (see MHCLG chart below).

Annual housing starts totalled 151,020 in 2019, a 10 per cent decrease compared with 2018.

Completions in 2019 totalled 178,800, an increase of nine per cent compared to the year before.

Housing starts and completions by local authorities are both down. There were 1,780 housing starts by local authorities in the quarter, down by 20 per cent on the previous three months and by 24 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.

There were 2,150 local authority housing completions in the quarter, down 12 per cent on the preceding quarter and 19 per cent on the year before.

Clive Docwra, managing director at construction consultancy McBains, said: “The government’s ambitious housebuilding target – delivering a million homes in the next five years – was always going to be extremely challenging, and the latest statistics bear this out. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will mean this is now virtually impossible.

“Many sites are empty, supply chains have been disrupted and multi-million pounds worth of private investment is on hold for the foreseeable future. That will knock back housebuilding rates months, if not years.

“The government has already announced an unprecedented package of measures to help support business, but once we’ve turned the tide on the virus, further help, such as tax incentives, will be needed to get the UK building again.”

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