A CALL to return to council housing has been made at a Dorset Council meeting – but rejected on a majority vote.

Social housing in the rural county is currently provided by a number of housing associations but the numbers available fail to keep up with demand and the waiting list grows in size year after year, with only a handful of social housing properties being built each year.

In some parts of the county social housing numbers are reducing as some housing associations sell off older properties which have become expensive to maintain.

In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, most social housing is still provided by the council, except Christchurch where the main provider is still a housing association – the area having previously come under Dorset County Council until reorganisation.

Housing Portfolio holder Cllr Jane Somper said the authority's new housing strategy recognised that good housing was essential for a good life.

She said the strategy was developed with the community, other organisations, councillors and officers including adult and children’s social care and health partners after a 10-week consultation.

Speaking at the December Dorset Council meeting she said positive secure accommodation had a big effect on positive mental and physical health.

“We have a duty to help everyone find the right home in the right place,” she said.

But there was criticism of the strategy report for not being ambitious enough.

Weymouth councillor David Gray said the document left him wanting more while Lib Dem group leader Nick Ireland said the report painted too glossy a picture and failed to tackle some of the core issues and still relied on market-led providers, which had been proved not to work.

He said the county lacked adequate social rented housing which did little to attract and retain key workers to Dorset.

Cllr Alex Brenton said in her Purbeck ward there were increasing numbers of park homes within the Green Belt, most of them second or holiday homes, yet affordable homes seemed almost impossible to build.

Weymouth councillor Louie O’Leary said he wanted to see a return to council-built and council-owned social housing.

“Housing is at the key of every major issue this council faces… the system we have got now is not working,” he said.

Lyme Regis councillor Belinda Bawden said the council needed to become more ambitious: “It is top of the list of what people want us to do,” she said, asking for the authority to ensure that all new homes were warm, well insulated and powered by renewable energy, where possible.

Portland councillor Paul Kimber, the council’s only Labour member, said he would welcome seeing council housing in the county, praising Conservative Cllr O’Leary for his support for the idea.

Weymouth Lib Dem councillor Gill Taylor attempted to defer a decision on approving the housing strategy document until further work is completed on whether it might be feasible for the council to become a housing provider.

Her amendment was lost by a 23-33 vote after finance portfolio holder Cllr Gary Suttle, who also supported council housing, warned of the financial risks – suggesting it might be better for a new council to look at the idea after the May election.