A derelict town site is being sold by a council to a new age group for £525,000 despite a surveyor suggesting the land could fetch more than five times that amount.
There were calls yesterday for the former St Anne’s School site in Lewes to be re-marketed after East Sussex County Council (ESCC) awarded it to spiritual group Subud for community use.
Locals have said the four-and-a-half-acre plot should be turned over for affordable housing.
It is the second controversy in a matter of days to befall Lewes. The Argus reported yesterday that the New Homes Project, previously known as the 49 Sites, faces the chop by Lewes District Council.
Estate agent Charles Wycherley has put forward his own "conservative" estimate for the ESCC site, which sits behind County Hall in Rotten Row, of at least £2.75 million with planning permission for housing.
He disagrees with the selling process for the site and thinks "prime" land should fetch the highest price.
He said: “It’s literally a prime Lewes site - it could hardly be more prime. The public is asking how such a site could be sold for that money.
“I massively disagree with not getting the right money for something that is in the public purse.”
His sentiment was echoed at a meeting of ESCC yesterday, where resident Rita Ellis asked the council to revisit the sale to reflect an increase in land value.
Mrs Ellis, 71, told The Argus afterwards: “I just find it incredible that the value of the site is higher than that and for [ESCC] to sell it to a religious cult is ludicrous when it should be affordable housing.”
Lib Dem councillor Carolyn Lambert asked for the case to be reviewed again. A scrutiny board studied the bidding process after allegations in 2014 that it was flawed.
The two bidders that lost out felt details about a new access way on to the site (which could raise the value of the land and allow housing) had not been made clear, though ESCC has shown sales particulars to The Argus which explain this.
An ESCC spokesman added: “When considering bids we look at not just the financial offer made but the feasibility of the scheme and the applicant’s ability to deliver the required community and economic benefits.
“In this case, the unanimous decision of the bid panel was that the Subud bid scored the highest of the three bids received across all bid review criteria.
“We continue to seek to work with Subud to agree a contract that responds to the feedback from extensive consultations with the residents in Lewes to provide a resource for community benefit and therefore delivers best value from council assets.”
Sue Fleming of Subud Lewes said: “We are taking time to get very complex details negotiated that best serve the interests of the community."
She said the amount reflects the groups responsibility for establishing and managing activities for community benefit, and its investment to deliver this.
The group rejects suggestions that it is a religious sect or a cult.
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