People in St Neots are facing a sharp rise in their Council Tax bills - a move said to be necessary to plug a funding gap created by the town’s rapid housing growth.

St Neots Town Council voted 9-6 in favour of increasing the town's precept by a massive 32.3 per cent at a full town council meeting last Thursday. The figure equates to a ten-fold increase and will see annual bills for a Band D property in 2016/17 rise by at least £26.52.

The police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, Sir Graham Bright, announced last week that he would be recommending a one per cent increase to the police precept and Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service are pushing for a two per cent (£1.29 per year) increase to the fire element of the levy.

Independent councillor, Barry Chapman defended the decision, pointing out that services were being increasingly stretched and the extra money was necessary to meet the "demands of residents".

"Unlike other councils, St Neots Town Council has not increased its tax for a decade," said Cllr Chapman.

"During the same 10 years it has actually suffered a loss in total income of over 12 per cent, following changes to the tax benefits system. St Ives and Huntingdon town councils adjusted their tax to include this several years ago but St Neots did not.

"Moreover, rapid housing growth in St Neots has meant that town council services are becoming increasingly stretched and residents are demanding these be improved.

"Important local services such as street lighting, school crossing patrols, grass cutting and more are also under threat and subject to cuts by other councils. Having not increased tax for a decade, lost a large proportion of its income year-on-year, the delayed referendum and pressures of growth and cut backs by other councils, St Neots Town Council has been faced with a choice between continuing to do less each year or meeting residents demands."

Eaton Ford councillor Graham Welton, who did not support the tax rise, said the argument had been "dressed up" to justify paying for services that may never materialise.

"The council has reserves of £900,000 and we have put up the Council Tax just to fill the council's coffers and to pay for things that may never happen. There was no good evidence to justify this and I assume the public will be rightly outraged."

Eynesbury councillor, Karl Wainwright, who also voted against the move, said he was disappointed at what was a significant and unnecessary hike.

"There is enough in the reserves that we did not need to make any increase at all. We are taking money off the electorate to put it in the council's bank account. It is not just the money - it's the principle - there is no burning need to have the money."

In neighbouring towns, Huntingdon Town Council has proposed no increase and St Ives have put forward a 0.81 per cent rise. Huntingdonshire District Council has proposed to freeze Council Tax for five years, with the proposal set to go before the full council in February.