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Laing looks at housing sale

£300 million sale on cards after review concludes investments business offers better bet

LAING is set to sell its house building arm and be re-rated as a support services firm as it concentrates on its investments business.

The company spent most of last year denying housing would be put up for sale. The then chairman, Sir Martin Laing, went so far as to issue a statement to the London Stock Exchange last summer saying Laing would not sell the £380 million-turnover business.

But a strategic review of the group's activities by new executive chairman Bill Forrester has concluded that the firm's investments division is the better longterm bet.

Finance director Adrian Ewer said: 'We have decided to back one horse, not two. The position is that we will be putting our available resources into investments.

'Whether we sell house building remains to be seen but, if we get an offer we think is good value for shareholders, we will have to take it seriously.'

Mr Ewer denied the rethink effectively meant its house building arm was now a lame duck at the group.

He said: 'We are not killing off housing and it will continue to operate at the level it is now.'

Headed by Steve Lidgate, the house building division is based in Milton Keynes and employs nearly 900 people.

Last year it made a profit before interest of £53.3 million.

It is expected to fetch a price in excess of £300 million.

Last year Laing Investments recorded big growth, seeing turnover leap from £91 million to just under £220 million, while pre-tax profits jumped to £65.8 million from £22.9 million - although this includes £48 million from the sale of its 15 per cent stake in Spanish motorway operator Europistas.

Laing also looks to have found a new group head office after spending nearly 80 years at Mill Hill in north London.

Mr Ewer said he was hoping to sign a lease on an office in the New Bond Street area of central London.

The office will house 20 staff and all will have moved in by September.