UK House Building Hits Post Financial Crisis High

UK House Building Hits Post Financial Crisis High
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain built the largest number of new homes since the global financial crisis during the year to the end of March, annual figures showed on Tuesday, as the economy picked up and the government took steps to tackle Britain's housing shortage.

A net 189,650 new homes were created in the 12 months to March 2016, up 11 percent from the same period in a year earlier and the highest since 223,530 extra dwellings were created in the 12 months to the end of March 2008.

The official figures show the bulk of new housing came from the construction of 163,940 new homes, but a record 30,600 dwellings were converted from existing buildings such as office space following a relaxation of strict planning rules.

The Federation of Master Builders, an industry body that represents smaller housebuilders, said construction levels still fell short of a government target for the industry to build a million new homes between 2015 and 2020.

"The current figures also show a strong reliance on the conversion of existing buildings to residential use, which is a trend that can't be sustained indefinitely," the Federation's chief executive, Brian Berry, said.

British builder Crest Nicholson reported earlier on Tuesday that demand for new homes had recovered from weakness following Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

After a brief blip in the wake of the June 23 referendum, demand for new homes has remained strong, supported by government schemes to encourage housebuilding and help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.

In a statement alongside the figures, the government said a new law going through parliament would speed up planning approvals. Last month it said that in almost half of England, median house prices were 10 times median local incomes.

British finance minister Philip Hammond is expected to announce further measures to speed up the construction of new homes when he delivers his first budget statement on Nov. 23.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)