Henry Boot sees a recovery in 2021 after the pandemic hit 2020 trading

Property developer Henry Boot has reported a good start to 2021 and said forward sales are ahead of expectations after the Covid-19 pandemic caused significant disruption in 2020.

Henry Boot redeveloped the Terry’s Chocolate Factory in York

The Sheffield-based firm saw revenues plunge from £380m in 2019 to £222m in 2020 after its operations were hit by lower demand as a result of the pandemic.

Henry Boot's chief executive, Tim Roberts, said: "We've had to do things in different ways. We've had to adjust. We've got through the pandemic so far safely and in pretty good shape.

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"There have been some low moments because people have been very poorly. Our people are very stoic and they get on with things and they adjust. They are very proactive."

Pre-tax profits fell from £49m in 2019 to £17m in 2020, but this was ahead of expectations thanks to land disposals and a resilient performance during the second half of the year.

Mr Roberts said: "I think profits will improve. Will they be the same as they were in 2019? No, because we won't be as active during this period of lockdown.

"We've had a very good start to the year. I'm confident that the business model is strong."

The group will focus on its three long term markets: industrial & logistics, residential and urban development, all of which are driven by positive long term trends.

Mr Roberts said: “Our people have responded well to a challenging year, our balance sheet remains rock solid and, in the circumstances, we are pleased with our results.

"In the long term our strategy will be to tighten our focus on our three key markets which benefit from structural tail winds."

The group's land promotion business sold 2,000 plots and capital was successfully recycled into growing the landbank to 16,607 acres.

Its Stonebridge Homes division performed ahead of target after completing 115 sales in 2020 and secured 57 per cent of its sales target for 2021.

Its land bank increased to 1,119 plots, including a site in Wakefield.

"Stonebridge bought a large site in Wakefield, just before Christmas which is about 150 plots, so it is a pretty chunky site," said Mr Roberts.

"We're a national business, but our roots are in Yorkshire. At the end of last week we agreed a lease with a German drugs company at Wakefield hub. That shows the industrial market is alive and kicking."

The firm said its construction business recovered well in the second half of 2020, performing ahead of expectations with a turnover of £86m.

The group said that encouraging demand, led by public sector customers, led to a full order book for 2021.

"It feels as though we've got a path for recovery, both as a society and as an economy," said Mr Roberts.

"It feels like a well-judged path. The vaccine discovery and roll out has been world class. There will probably be some twists and turns in that path along the way."

Henry Boot is proposing a final dividend of 3.3p, up from 1.3p in 2019, which will increase the full year dividend to 5.5p, up from 5.0p in 2019, which reflects its current financial position and its confidence in the group's long term markets.

"We've increased the dividend to 5.5p, which is 10 per cent higher than it was last year," said Mr Roberts.

"We want to grow the dividend back up to where it was, but that will take time.

"As for the immediate outlook I am encouraged. We start the year with strong forward sales and very healthy order books."