ONE in four houses bought in West Dorset last year were purchased as second homes or properties to rent out, figures show.

According to HMRC data, second home buyers - including property investors and landlords buying houses to rent out - were undeterred by new taxes on extra properties.

A second home is defined by HMRC as a property that is bought by buyers who already have primary residences.

Last year 24 per cent of the properties sold in West Dorset were classified as second homes.

Around 540 were bought in the financial year 2017-18, with a combined value of £171 million; despite an extra three per cent stamp duty charge on additional properties introduced in April 2016 as part of a government effort to deter buy-to-let landlords, property investors and second home owners.

The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, has raised concerns about the impact buying extra properties has on local communities.

Policy leader Will Jeffwitz said: "In any community, if more homes are bought up as second homes then there are fewer available for residents - and the houses left are more unaffordable."

This appears to be the case in west Dorset. Earlier this year, Bridport and District Citizens Advice announced housing had overtaken debt as the second largest enquiry area and said this reflected the increasing problems of both securing affordable accommodation and homelessness.

It said concerns are regularly expressed by clients about the high number of empty homes in west Dorset.

County, district and Bridport town councillor Keith Day says he's 'surprised' the figure is so high.

"Dorset is a very desirable place for people to put their money," he said. "It's a sad reflection of the times when people can't get accommodation in their own area and it is a serious, recognised problem."

The CAB also highlighted Lyme Regis in particular, where it has been estimated more than 20 per cent of properties in the town are second homes.

Several Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have emerged in recent years in an attempt to tackle the housing crisis (see page seven). The community-led housing schemes are set up and run by locals to develop and manage homes as well as other assets. CLTs act as long term stewards of housing, ensuring that it remains genuinely affordable.

Lyme Regis CLT, which was recently shortlisted for a national award for its Garmans Field project, received 258 applications for the 15 homes it had available, signalling the need for affordable housing in the area for local people.

Lyme Regis Town Councillor Cheryl Reynolds says young people are being ‘forced out’ of the town.

“Young people have got nowhere to live,” said Cllr Reynolds. “There is nowhere to build in Lyme and houses are few and far between. You have to wait for people to die or move out. What can we do about it?”

Lawrence Bowles, research analyst at estate agent Savills, said: "First time buyers will typically be buying with a mortgage, and buy-to-let landlords will often have the money in their account, ready to go.

"Sellers prefer that over mortgages because of the certainty - there's always a risk associated with a mortgage."

Tim Yarker, West Dorset District Council portfolio holder for housing, doesn’t think buy-to-let homes should be included in the figures.

He said: " I'm not seeing any increase in actual second homes in our statistics - we keep a close eye on that.

"The private rented sector makes an important contribution. Reasons behind rising house prices are complex - the best thing we can do is carry on building homes."