The leader of Shropshire Council has come under fire for saying a rise in homelessness in the county is because rough sleepers are treated “too well”.

Councillor Peter Nutting made the comments at a cabinet meeting on Monday while discussing the authority’s new housing strategy.

Cllr Alan Mosley, leader of the council’s Labour group, said the report highlighted a “disastrous” increase in the number of homeless households in Shropshire.

He said: “We are now around the national average, whereas for the last six or seven years we have been significantly below it.

“The rise in Shropshire has been great at a time when the national picture has been static or indeed reducing.”

He asked Cllr Nutting to explain how the new strategy would turn around this worrying trend, and “how we are going to investigate why Shropshire’s homelessness has increased so significantly”.

Cllr Nutting said the council had made a “tremendous effort” in recent years through its in-house social housing provider, Star Housing, and the creation of its own development company, Cornovii.

In addition, last year all known rough sleepers were offered accommodation as part of the government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme in response to the pandemic.

Cllr Nutting said: “The idea that we are not doing anything is nonsense, but the demand has increased.

“It’s partly, I believe, because Shropshire does look after homelessness and rough sleepers too well and it actually attracts people to the county because of that.

“We are dealing with it and I believe once this housing strategy in implemented, and certainly giving Cornovii the next 12 to 18 months to deliver some of what they are promising, we will be in a much better place.

“But it’s mostly, I believe, outside demand on the county rather than internal demand.”

Cllr Mosley said it was “unfortunate” that Cllr Nutting was “blaming” homelessness on the very people affected by it.

But Cllr Nutting said he had been referring to how the council deals with homelessness and rough sleeping, rather than how the people themselves are treated.

Cllr Mosley said: “The implication was that we were making the situation attractive to homeless and rough sleepers and making it too easy for them, and that certainly is not when what the homeless people are saying to me when they describe the difficulties they are facing.”

Cllr Nutting added: “If you do a survey of the homeless rough sleepers in Shrewsbury town centre, most of those originate from outside the county.”

Cabinet unanimously agreed to adopt the new housing strategy.

Cllr Robert Macey, portfolio holder for housing, said preventing homelessness was a “clear objective” of the strategy.

He said the issue of homelessness was a nationwide one, and something the council was working hard to address.