PLANS by Hastings College to build houses on the Adult Education Centre site have caused outrage in Rye.
The College, current owners of the Lion Street site, has submitted plans for four residential homes.
But furious residents say the centre, part of which has listed building status, was bequeathed to the town for educational use and have accused the College of attempting to profiteer from a valuable local amenity.
Rooms at the centre are used by more than 20 local craft and activity groups in the town. The College has set aside one 50ft long room for Rye's community use. But objectors say this is inadequate.
Rye Mayor Peter Dyce said: "A decision to convert one of the few amenity sites in Rye into residential dwellings, in the centre of the town, exposes values which are mindless of community needs for cultural, social and leisure activities.
"This is a Philistine proposal from an authority that should be promoting, not destroying, the infrastructure of civilised pursuits in the community."
Paul Blomfield, of Rye Conservation Society, described the proposals as 'a monstrous depravity' and said: "The Meryon family gave this site to the town in the 1870s for a school. It was transferred to East Sussex County Council under local government reorganisation in 1974. They in turn passed it to Hastings College to hold and administer.
"Quite clearly, the value of any part of the site which is no longer to be used for Rye residents should be returned to the town of Rye."
Rye councillor Colin Marsh said: "This is appalling. I want to know how Hastings College obtained this valuable resource when it was left to the town.
"We have an educational establishment that wants to build four houses and give one room and a toilet back to the town."
Professor Keith Taylor, of Lion Street, said: "These are matters of very great concern to everyone in the town, yet scarcely any time has been allowed for their discussion. Why has there been no opportunity for extended public debate?
"Does central Rye really need extra housing when there are already many empty properties. Why are facilities for meetings being further restricted when there is already a great shortage of space?"
Hastings College principal Julie Walker said: "We are working with the council's listed building officer and planning department to come up with a plan that is very sympathetic and in keeping with the area. We believe it will be an improvement to what is there now.
"I can assure people any money from the development will be re-invested in better quality, more accessible education and training. We honestly believe everyone will be a winner.
"Not everyone will agree with this. It is an emotive subject, but that is what we believe. The college is not in the business of making profits, we are in the business of providing a better education and service to local people. The Lion Street site is not easily accessible and the current library is in need of a better, less cramped location."
Rye Town Council's planning committee has already voted unanimously against the proposal.
Cllr Dyce said: "This is contrary to local plans which say community amenities must be protected. We are strong on local groups but light on suitable premises for them. This would be to the detriment of the town."