The number of houses built in England remained near an eight-year low in the last quarter, although activity rose slightly as the government stepped up support for social housing.

There were 33,400 housing starts in England in the three months to June 2008 – a 2% increase on the previous quarter but still 19% lower than a year ago. The number of new starts in the private housebuilding sector fell 27% year on year.

Figures were boosted by building work from so-called registered social landlords – the grant-maintained housing associations – which rose by 56% in the period.

Development activity among social landlords is at the highest quarterly level in 11 years, according to the report from the Department of Communities and Local Government yesterday.

Registered social landlords are still active in the building market, partly because they benefit from government subsidies but also because they derive a steady income from renting parts of their portfolio, rather than simply relying on sales.

Financial Times