Chief executive John White expresses measured confidence, despite predictions of falling prices.
Housebuilder Persimmon said it was confident that the demand for housing would remain high as it unveiled a 42% jump in pre-tax profit this week.

The group, which operates mostly outside London, posted a pre-tax profit before goodwill and integration costs of £268m for 2002. Turnover rose £234m to £1.71bn.

John White, chief executive of Persimmon, said he still believed that the housing market would hold up, despite concerns of a weakening in the market over the next three years.

White said: "I think demand will remain strong. That's not to say in certain times it may not be a little less strong."

Confidence in the housing sector is based on the UK's low unemployment rate, cheap credit and its undersupply of housing.

White said the market looked particularly promising in the North of England, which accounts for 40% of Persimmon's business.

White said: "Our average price there is £109,000. There is still good potential in the North for further price growth."

White also repeated his prediction that there would be further consolidation in the sector. Reports at the weekend suggested that housebuilders such as Berkeley and Taylor Woodrow were vulnerable to takeovers from venture capitalists because of their low share prices. White said: "The sector is well managed in the main, but there is a definite advantage in being a larger player. I suspect there will be further rationalisation at some stage."

Persimmon also added weight to the sector's complaint over the snail-like planning system. The firm is selling from fewer outlets than usual because of planning delays.

White said: "The process of getting final agreements with legal document for schemes is taking years rather than months."

White added that the group would be expanding its Charles Church brand in the north of England. It currently has six offices in the South-east, the West Country and North-east.

The group welcomed government plans to expand the modern apprentice programme. Persimmon employs 230 apprentices and said it had plans to increase this number.