The Leader of Lewes District Council has told local people not to be “spooked by meddlesome rumours” regarding the future of St Mary’s Social Centre.
Cllr James Page said the council had no intention of taking away the community asset.
His statement followed the presentation of a protest petition signed by more than 4,000 people ahead of last week’s full meeting of the council.
Residents fear there are plans to close the centre in Christie Road, Lewes, and redevelop the site with up to 14 properties.
Cllr Page sought to reassure the Trustees of St Mary’s and the Nevill Residents’ Association and acknowledged the strength of support for the centre. He said: “It is an important social centre and we have no intention of taking that away. Rather, we want to make sure you have the best possible community facilities.
“I can understand why people are concerned but there is some misinformation around so let me reassure you: We have not made any decision to sell the building or demolish it for redevelopment.
“We have published an open invitation for creative partners to come forward with proposals to make best use of properties the council owns. St Mary’s is one of those. If any proposal for the building comes forward, we will be open about it and consult you before making a decision. We will apply our new Principles for Local Participation, so you, the community, will have ample chance to comment.
“We promise that any redevelopment would have to have, at its heart, provision for improved community facilities and social housing.
“Any proposal would have to go through the open process of applying for planning permission and be considered in public. As a responsible council looking after Council Tax payers’ money, we have to look at how we can make best use of all of our assets.
“Some buildings the council owns are well-used but could be improved. Some are old and not energy efficient or don’t comply with current access or buildings standards. Some are not well used. Some are very valuable, and much better used by selling them and investing the proceeds in new buildings and services that are fit-for-purpose.”
Cllr Page continued: “We published the invitation to potential development partners openly in the European Journal, as we must do by law.
“We are not trying to hide anything. But we are facing some tough issues. Like all local government, we have to cut our cloth to fit these straitened economic times.
“We are doing what we can to release resources to invest in the services and improvements we most need in this district, such as tackling the shortage of affordable housing.
“ There are a number of ways we are addressing the fact that we have more than 2,000 households on the housing needs register for affordable housing.
“So, to the people of St Mary’s, I say, please don’t be spooked by meddlesome rumours and misinformation. Pay attention to the facts and don’t jump to conclusions that decisions have been made when they haven’t.
“I am committed to being open about our plans and I assure you that will continue.”