But housebuilder reports ‘sustained period of demand’ since lockdown
Completed sales at Countryside slumped by almost 30% over the past year as the housebuilder struggled to cope with the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
In an end of year trading update to the City, the south-east-based firm said the number of homes completed in in the year to September 30 fell by 29%, from 5,733 in 2019 to 4,053 this year.
The biggest drop-off was in the construction of homes for private sale, which slumped by exactly a third from 2,177 to 1,454.
Overall, the firm’s large partnerships housing business, in which it delivers schemes working with housing associations and local authorities, was marginally more resilient to the disruption from covid-19 than its private housebuilding business, where completions dropped by 36% to just 840.
However, the firm said its sales had rebounded since the lifting of lockdown restrictions, recording 0.78 overall reservations per site week over the year, only slightly down on the 0.82 recorded in 2019.
Since June, when it reported sales per week of just 0.5 over lockdown, the firm said that “we have seen a sustained period of demand during the summer as the market recovered”.
However, it said that given the “uncertain” economic outlook, it was planning to focus delivery in 2021 on affordable and build-to-rent schemes, rather than relying on private sales, despite the lower margins.
It said its forward order book was up on last year, with private reservations more than double that seen at the same point in 2019.
Countryside said it was on course with its plans to expand the partnerships division, announced when it raised £250m from shareholders in July, by opening three new regional businesses.
However, it also revealed that it has closed one of its private housebuilding offices, the Twyford home of the former Millage business it acquired in 2014, merging it into its west of England operation. It said this was part of a strategy to “reposition the housebuilding division to be more balanced around London and continue to manage our exposure to higher price points in the south-east.”
Countryside also said that previously announced plans for a new £20m modular housing factory capable of producing 3,000 homes per year were on track, with the facility in Bardon, Leicestershire, expected to be operational from autumn next year.
Iain McPherson, Countryside’s group chief executive, said the firm’s mixed tenure model “continues to prove resilient”. He added: “We are focused on delivering our enhanced growth plan, building on our strong pipeline of work and our relationships to further expand our geographical footprint.”