PERSIMMON is stepping up its house building programme with plans to open 90 new sites in the first half of the year.

Profits at the York-based builder rose jumped by more than 50 per cent last year, thanks in part to the government's Help to Buy scheme.

It plan to step up building activity was revealed as the house builder reported underlying profits jumped 49 per cent to £330m last year, while sales broke through the £2bn mark, up by a fifth.

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Nicholas Wrigley, group chairman, said the strong performance was driven by a 30 per cent surge in completions in the second half of the year as Persimmon reacted to the gathering recovery.

He said: “The group entered 2014 with a very strong forward order book and the early weeks of the spring selling season have been encouraging, with our weekly private sales rate per site being 22 per cent ahead of last year for the first eight weeks.

“We anticipate a further year of encouraging sales growth in 2014.”

He added that already forward sales were 41 per cent ahead of last year at over £1.4bn.

Completions across the year climbed 16 per cent to 11,528 homes, sold at average selling price of £181,861 , up 4 per cent.

Of these Persimmon sold over 4,250 new homes to Help to Buy customers, of which 2,203 legally completed in 2013.

The house builder said operating margins recovered strongly from 12 per cent in 2012 to 16 per cent last year.

To replenish land before prices start to soar again Persimmon  acquired a further 17,735 plots in the year bringing consented  land bank to 74,407 or 6.5 years supply.