Dorset Council calls for more action from government in providing houses for those in need

By Trevor Bevins - Local Democracy Reporter

13th Sep 2023 | Tributes

There are currently more than 5,000 on the housing register in Dorset
There are currently more than 5,000 on the housing register in Dorset

Housing policies which have left Dorset short of homes for those most in need have been criticised with a call for improvements.

With more than 5,000 on the housing needs register, councillors say changes are required soon and more ought to be done.

They have turned their attention to government policies, housing providers and the planning system, which some see as failing to deliver the homes the county needs.

Conservative councillor for Preston and Littlemoor, Louie O'Leary, has called for councils to resume house building themselves.

Another Conservative, Robin Cook, says Dorset Council could do more by offering some of the thousands of acres it owns to housing providers.

Cllr Cook (Stour and Allen Vale) said he saw no reason why some of the Dorset Council "land bank" could not be offered to the housing providers.

He was also critical of housing associations operating in the county as being out of touch – accusing some of "being taken over by the bean-counters from the people who are at the coal-face".

Said Cllr Cook: "We own an enormous amount of land. Why can't we encourage housing providers to have some of that land, that we are trying to make better use of, to build on?"

He claimed that with legislation to ensure energy efficiency for homes the associations were likely to look to new-build to meet the requirements – an opportunity, he suggested, for Dorset Council to offer some of the massive land holdings it has.

The council's People and Health Scrutiny Committee he was addressing had earlier been told that some of the housing associations are now scrambling to sell off some older properties – rather than pay out to improve their energy efficiency to meet new government rules.

Cllr Louie O'Leary said that, while he understood why housing associations might be thinking that way, the actions had the potential to damage communities and might also result in the proceeds from property sales not being re-invested locally.

"The wider housing issue in this country, and this county… will not be solved until the government, via local authorities, start building houses again." he said.

"That is the only way I can see the issue being dealt with."

The south Dorset councillor went on to complain about previous Dorset councils handing over their former housing stock to what he described as "unaccountable and un-elected housing providers".

He said, in the past, there used to be councillors on the boards of housing associations, including in Weymouth and Portland, but over the years they had all been removed.

"These associations are now so unaccountable and so distant that they, more or less, are able to do what they want," he added.

Cllr O'Leary also complained about housing associations refusing to communicate with local councillors, even when they were taking up issues on behalf of tenants, with direct contact often made impossible.

Portland's Labour councillor, Paul Kimber, called for a better dialogue with local housing associations, to ensure their actions were meeting local need and to get the housing waiting list down to manageable numbers, adding: "We do need a bit of democracy in this."

Cllr Kimber said he would support housing co-operatives, as an alternative to housing associations, as a means of providing local housing through residents working together.

Melcombe Regis Green councillor Cllr Jon Orrell said the bottom line to solving the housing crisis in Dorset was to build more homes, possibly at ten times the rate that homes were currently being constructed.

Committee chair Cllr Gill Taylor (Lib Dem, Westham) said that the one thing housing associations most complained of was how long it took councils to grant planning permission for their developments.

Dorchester councillor Molly Rennie (Lib Dem) said, despite the concerns, she believed relationships with those providing housing in the county had improved, and was continuing to improve.

The issue of the council's relationship with housing associations, and other registered housing providers, is to be reviewed again in six months' time, just before the next local government election.


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