A Norfolk council is planning to buy 11 properties for homeless people, amid claims that demand for accommodation has tripled in some places.

The £1.6m investment, agreed by Breckland Council, will allow the authority to buy a collection of properties in Thetford and Dereham - the district’s two largest towns.

The move aims to increase the emergency housing provision available to the council’s most vulnerable residents, while reducing the authority’s reliance on alternative options like bed and breakfast accommodation, which tends to be more expensive and does not always provide ideal facilities.

And while the initiative won unanimous support from councillors, Labour opposition leader Terry Jermy said it should have happened sooner.

“I’m pleased it’s happened but frankly it should have happened a long while ago,” he said, at the council's meeting on Thursday, October 6.

“We could have saved an awful lot of money in revenue costs - renting different premises as we have been doing, B&Bs and whatnot - and of course if we’d have done it a few years ago, house prices would have been significantly cheaper.”

To give his colleagues an idea of the problem in Thetford, he said there had always been about 20 people in the past who were looking to rent a room in the town on spareroom.co.uk, but when he had last checked, that figure was up at 62 - with just eight properties advertised.

He added: “There aren’t just the places for people to go and if they’re being kicked out of somewhere, they need to be housed somewhere.

“That’s fuelling the demand, because frankly if you’re on your own, you can’t afford to run a house on your own, even if you’re in full-time work, frankly.”

Conservative councillor Bill Borrett hit back at the criticism, saying: “Isn’t councillor Jermy lucky that we have got £1.6m to spend on this?

“A lot of authorities, in these cash-strapped times, wouldn’t have the resources, the wherewithal, to be able to make decisions like this.

“This is absolutely the right thing to do, I think it’s actually very timely.

“There is an increase in demand and the council is managing that by stepping up to the plate and purchasing - so that we know there will be good-quality, safe accommodation for people to use.”