PERSIMMON'S £643 million bid to buy its rival housebuilder Westbury was "in no way hostile".

That was the assurance today by Neil Francis, Persimmon's company secretary, based at the housebuilder's national headquarters in Fulford.

Mr Francis stressed the deal was still subject to the approval of both sets of shareholders, and that dates for emergency general meetings had yet to be set.

Given the go-ahead, he would expect completion towards the end of June.

He said: "We have applied for clearance from the Office of Fair Trading, but we are not expecting any competition issues."

The combined force, already approved by the Westbury board, should make Persimmon the UK's biggest housebuilder, putting it on course to complete as many 16,700 homes next year.

It could also claim a place in the FTSE 100 Index, following the acquisition of the Cheltenham-based firm, which Persimmon said took the company into new regions and boosted its holding of strategic land assets.

Persimmon has a track record of making large acquisitions, having successfully integrated Beazer following a £560 million takeover in 2001.

The deal will create the UK's largest housebuilder by sales volume, overtaking Barratt Developments and fuelling expectations of further takeover deals in the sector.

By 10am yesterday, the announcement saw another 17 pence rise in Persimmon shares to £10.77 per share, compared with £9.50 two weeks ago.

Ironically, shares for Westbury, which has nine regionally-based housebuilding companies and employs 1,500 staff, also increased in value, from £4.30 a month ago to £5.60 at the end of play on Wednesday.

That is precisely the amount of the Persimmon cash bid, "except that we are also adding a dividend payment of 6.1525 pence per share," said Mr Francis.

The vulnerability of Westbury to a takeover has grown since it posted a 26 per cent drop in half-year profits towards the end of last month.

In common with many of its rivals, Westbury has been spending more on marketing and offering bigger incentives at a time when labour costs and raw material costs have been rising.

Persimmon chief executive John White said: "The Westbury business is an excellent geographical and product fit for Persimmon."

Persimmon has operations across England, Scotland and Wales, but Westbury will bring "critical mass" in regions including the Midlands, Kent and the North West of England.

Updated: 10:50 Friday, November 25, 2005