Home Builders Federation survey reveals 18% drop since last year, despite rise in homes sales

The number of active housebuilding sites has hit a new low, according to figures seen by Building.

The Home Builders Federation’s weekly survey of 30 to 40 of the UK’s largest housebuilders shows that 18% fewer sites were being worked on in the 33rd week of this year than the same week in 2008. This is one of the largest falls ever recorded.

This is despite the fact that most volume builders have said they are opening new sites in response to a recent pick-up in sales.

Sources said 2,025 housing sites were active in the week of 10-16 August, compared with 2,471 in the same week last year. At the beginning of the year, active sites were 2-3% down on 2008 figures, and have fallen since.

A source said: “This sort of decline is unprecedented. It means housebuilders are not actually reopening sites.”

It is believed that the figures can be accounted for despite the rise in sales by housebuilders. One factor is that developers have sold the remaining homes on difficult sites by offering heavy incentives.

Another source said the actual picture could be even worse than indicated by the HBF survey. The source said: “Volume housebuilders have been selling units to generate cash flow to pay debts. I think up to 1,000 of so-called ‘active sites’ are actually mothballed.”

The numbers will give pause to those buoyed by communities department figures last week that showed starts were up 63% in the second quarter of the year compared with the first quarter – although the figure was still 9% down on the same quarter in 2008.

The HBF declined to confirm the figures, but said reservations had increased and sites would open.