THE controversial way a council buys houses to convert into children's homes was criticised during a passionate debate.

However, a motion before Stockton Borough Council arguing for it to be reversed was eventually defeated.

Stockton Council and its partner childcare organisation, Spark of Genius, are in the process of buying houses that could be used as children's homes.

Previously the authority would secure 'change of use' planning permission before actually buying the properties, but that prompted large protests.

In Wolviston, one house owner withdrew a property after what - at a council meeting - was alleged as 'harassment'.

Since the change of policy, rumours have been circulating about various homes the council is looking at for children currently sent out of the borough.

An anonymous letter recently circulated in Hartburn saying the authority wanted to buy a home worth 650,000 in Darlington Road.

That led Hartburn Conservative councillor Terry Laing to file a motion before the full council meeting in the Town Hall, which said the ward councillors and neighbours of targeted properties should be informed in advance of any purchase.

In a passionate response, Coun Anne McCoy, Labour, reminded all councillors that they were corporate parents and had a direct duty to provide a home for looked after children.

Referring to a presentation which some vulnerable children had given to councillors before the meeting, she said: "When I think of those delightful young people, I think I would want them to live next to me.

"My response to this motion is - shame on you.

"Shame on you for not having enough moral fibre to challenge misconceptions about these young people."

Coun Laing said that in fact he supported the principle of the borough's young people returning to live in the area and coun McCoy had 'twisted the sense of the motion beyond recognition'.

Coun Mark Chatburn, UKIP, said the issue was primarily about the council being open in its dealings.

Buying property before seeking planning permission made it look like a deal was already done before procedures were followed properly.

In the end the motion to change the council's policy was overwhelmingly rejected.

The council will eventually bring 20 children and young people currently sent elsewhere back to the borough where they will be housed in four homes.

One has already been found in Thorpe Thewles and three more need to be bought.