COUNTY chiefs have no plans to ban the owners of second homes from voting in local elections, it has been confirmed.

However, civic leaders in Dorset will be keeping a watchful eye on Cornwall after it became the first county in Britain to instigate such a ban.

Cornish councillors decided to strictly enforce regulations which means no-one will be able to have their name on the electoral register unless they can prove the county is their main home.

Alex Folkes, the deputy leader of the Cornish Liberal Democrats, told a national newspaper: “Cornwall is leading the way and I know that other counties, for instance Dorset, are looking closely at what we’re doing.”

The move follows years of pressure from Cornish Lib Dems, who say local decisions should be made by local people.

Dorset has 6,415 second homes, 3.3 per cent of all homes in the county.

While a Dorset County Council spokesman told the Daily Echo, “we have no plans to follow Cornwall’s lead”, some district councillors are clearly concerned about the issue.

Lib Dem district and Dorset County Councillor Fred Drane, who represents Lytchett, said: “Purbeck District Council is getting worried about second home owners. It seems second home owners are influencing a lot of decisions in the area.

“I don’t know what we can do. These people pay council tax, but the feeling is something should be done because they are not here all the time.

“Cornwall has more second homes then we have but we are gradually catching up. We have quite a few in our rural areas.

“When I am out canvassing, I often come across empty houses only to be told by a neighbour that they are holiday homes and the owners may only be there for a couple of weeks a year.”

There is a real worry that some marginal Dorset seats could be influenced by second home voters, who choose to cast votes here because a vote in their main home constituency makes little difference.

The practice may be influencing the political make-up of Dorset.

In the 2009 county council elections, for example, there were only four votes separating the Tories and Lib Dems in the Egdon Heath ward.

Meanwhile, less than 100 votes separated the top two candidates in Colehill and Stapehill, Christchurch, Corfe Mullen and Gillingham.

The Electoral Commission says that, in principle, people should only vote where they have their main residence. However, there are exceptions for citizens who genuinely split their time between two homes, such as students.

Affordable housing the key issue in rural areas

A WALK around many of Dorset’s rural communities can feel like a stroll through a ghost town.

Villages like Worth Matravers and Studland may come alive with tourists during the summer, but many of the historic homes in these idyllic settlements lay empty the rest of the year.

More than half the buildings in Worth are holiday homes, many of them second homes. Studland also has a significant proportion of second homes.

Aside from the voting issue, the main worry for locals across rural Dorset is affordable housing.

Alison Hawes, south west regional director for the Countryside Alliance, said: “East Dorset Council met just five per cent of the affordable housing needs in 2010/11.

“The Countryside Alliance is massively concerned by this shortfall, which is leaving young people and families in an unsustainable position.

“If they are unable to afford to live where they grew up, they face limited choices and must often move away, meaning the break up of communities.”

According to latest figures, East Dorset District Council ranks as second worst of 306 councils surveyed on the issue of providing affordable housing.

The authority plans to build 23 affordable homes in the financial year 2010/11.

North Dorset District Council’s 110 new homes planned, represents just 28 per cent of identified need.