A PROPOSED council tax hike has been thrown out by a wafer-thin margin after a public vote.

A majority of less than one per cent put paid to Burgess Hill Town Council’s plan to get residents to stump up £6.9 million for a replacement arts venue.

The local authority sent out a flyer last month seeking approval for a 17.6 per cent rise in its element of council tax lasting 50 years.

A £65 million overhaul of the town centre by property investor NewRiver REIT will see a retail park and a 142-home residential development spring up on land currently occupied by facilities including the Martlets Hall arts centre.

But the council was accused of breaking promises to residents after 50.2 per cent of voters rejected the idea of funding the new venue out of the public purse.

Retired bank manager and Burgess Hill resident Tom McClurg told The Argus: “The council has been totally incompetent.

“They haven’t represented the taxpayer with any strength whatsoever. They didn’t even try for anything.”

The Conservative-led administration hoped to settle a £5 million loan from the Public Works Loan Board by adding the equivalent of a pound a month to the town council precept.

An overwhelming majority spoke out in favour of the project after town centre redevelopment plans were unveiled in 2015, and Mr McClurg is adamant they did so on the understanding it would be bankrolled by “developers of new houses” in the Northern Arc site – a large area earmarked for 4,000 homes to the north of the town.

In an email exchange seen by The Argus, he criticised the council’s handling of the matter.

But council leader Pru Moore said: “We have been absolutely open in saying we would do everything in our power to facilitate a new arts venue. When we first started this journey, everyone was shrieking ‘we need houses’, so we were expecting lots of developer contributions from the Northern Arc.

“New River came in during the biggest recession ever, and this town would crumble without them.”

The council’s preferred location for the hall is the old British Legion building and adjacent Cyprus Hall in Cyprus Road.