Housebuilder Bellway has said its annual sales target was nearly met despite fears that people were delaying purchases until the General Election is over.

Bellway said its order book of £627 million was only just below the £631 million level of last year, while it had achieved 97 per cent of its goal of selling 7,000 homes during the financial year.

The upbeat outlook was delivered alongside an

18.5 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £91.7 million in the six months to January 31 - a record for the half-year stage.

The company has been involved in a number of developments in the West Midlands, including in Chanterelle Court in Wolverhampton, Moneyhull Grange in Birmingham and The Grove in Tipton.

It is now close to signing the final contracts for the huge Chelmsley Wood regeneration scheme in Solihull, said chief executive John Watson. He added that he hopes to start building work within 12 months, on what will be one of their largest projects.

"It is an area that the Government says needs a lot of change for the benefit of the residents over a long period of time," he said.

Across the UK, Bellway said it opened ten per cent more sales outlets than last year to counter the deterioration in market conditions caused by five interest rate rises.

Chairman Howard Dawe also raised concerns that the General Election on May 5 was persuading people to wait before committing to buy.

But he added: "With our position for this year close to being secure, we can work towards strengthening the forward order book for the next financial year."

Turnover of £493.9 million represented a 13.2 per cent increase on a year earlier, while Bellway also committed itself to paying a 40 per cent higher interim dividend to shareholders.

Seymour Pierce analyst Tessa Starmer said the company was in a more robust position than many of its rivals and was protected by a land bank that equated to more than five years supply.

She added: "We do not believe that Bellway will be immune from a housing slowdown but we think it will be slightly more resilient given its focus on affordable housing and its exposure to the lower end of the market."

Bellway's East Midlands and West Lancashire divisions performed particularly well. With a stronger presence in the south west and Thames Gateway regions, the company said it was on course to meet its target of selling 10,000 homes a year by 2010.

Bellway said the average price of its homes rose by more than six per cent between August and January to £167,000.