One of the developers behind Birmingham's #500 million showcase Arena Central project celebrated its twelfth successive year of profits growth in 2005.

Miller Group, the country's biggest privately-owned housebuilding, property development and construction company, yesterday announced pretax earnings of #76 million, a rise of 40 per cent over 2004's results.

The figure was flattered by #10.9 million of net exceptional gains following the #262 million acquisition last year of Fairclough Homes.

Stripping out exceptionals there was a pretax profit of #65.1 million, an increase of 20 per cent over 2004.

Edinburgh-based Miller said all three of its divisions, Housing, Construction and Property, showed year-onyear improvements.

"All of our businesses are experiencing good demand with strong forward housing sales of #360 million, a number of property sales already secured, and a high quality construction order book of #325 million," group chairman Bob Speirs said.

"Against the background of a stable economy and inflation with government targets, we remain optimitic of our prospects in 2006."

Chief executive Keith Miller would not be drawn on the likelihood of the group extending its record profits run to 13 years.

"We never make forecasts," he said, but added, "if we don't increase profits having made a #262 million acquisition I would be very surprised."

Work on the much-delayed first phase of Arena Central, a mixed-use project that will t ransform the under-developed south side of Broad Street opposite the ICC, is expected to start in the summer, Mr Miller said.

Miller and its partner Bridgehouse Capital, the investment company run by Midland millionaire entrepreneur Andy Ruhan, were recently joined by property firm Dandara.

The 7.6 acre site, which takes in the former ATV television studios and is next to Alpha Tower, will create 2,000 flats and will include a tower, plus leisure and retail space.

"We are negotiating a ground lease with Birmingham City Council and are hopeful that work will begin in the summer," Mr Miller added.

As well as Arena Central Miller Group has some 20 residential development sites in the West Midlands, stretching from Banbury to Burton upon Trent and taking in Birmingham, Solihull, Worcester and Wolverhampton.

Other interests in the region include a new #9 million teaching facility at Haybridge High School at Hagley, a #9 million office development at Abbey Park, Stoneleigh, and a #5 million-a-year property maintenance agreement with Warwick-shire County Council.

Mr Miller said the group had achieved good results in one of the toughest markets for six or seven years.

"We have got to get more efficient at building and trimming our costs."