There was a pick-up in housebuilding projects started in England in the run-up to the June referendum but a dip in the number of homes completed, prompting renewed calls for government action to address the housing shortage.
Government figures show there were 34,920 homes completed in the April-to-June quarter, up 7% on the previous three months but down 2% on a year earlier. In the year to June, 139,030 homes were completed, an increase of 6% compared with last year.
Housing charity Shelter said the figures showed housebuilding was falling well short of the 250,000 new homes it estimates are needed every year to address England’s housing shortage.
But there was a pick-up in the number of housebuilding projects started in the second quarter, helping to allay fears that June’s EU referendum result had hit confidence and activity in the housebuilding sector.
The number of builds started in England was estimated at 36,400 in the April-to-June quarter, a 2% increase on the quarter and a 6% rise on the year, according to the figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
“Despite the recent good news, it’s clear from today’s figures that as a country we’re still falling far short of building the number of homes we need,” said Roger Harding, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter.
“Shelter’s own recent research shows that without significant reform to the housebuilding market the government is projected to miss its target of a million homes by 2020 by over a quarter.”
Shelter is urging Theresa May’s government to use record low interest rates to invest in new affordable homes to rent and buy, and to help small builders access the land and finance they need to build.
The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, highlighted the rise in new housing starts in the latest figures. “We’ve got the country building again with more new homes started and built than this time last year,” he said.
“This is real progress but there is much more to do. That’s why we are going further and increasing our investment in housebuilding to ensure many more people can benefit.”
There had been fears that the prospect of June’s referendum and the outcome would hit housebuilding. Shares in housebuilders tumbled after the vote to leave the EU amid fears that falling consumer confidence and an economic slowdown would dent the housing market.
But this week, shares in housebuilders were given a boost when Persimmon, the biggest company in the sector, said the Brexit vote had not put off potential homebuyers.
Announcing first-half results, Persimmon said trading since the referendum had been strong and that after a short period of wariness customer interest had increased from a year earlier.
Commenting on the government housing figures, Paul Smith, chief executive of haart estate agents, said: “Today’s data shows that despite all the claims in the run-up to the referendum campaign the construction of new homes remained steady in the second quarter.
“It seems housebuilders were busy ploughing ahead with new sites despite the referendum noise, because the demand for new homes remained high.
“The referendum result will test the nerve of housebuilders, but it’s clear that since June the impact on economic confidence has been less than expected, with consumers continuing to spend and a housing market flatlining rather than falling.”