PLANS to lease buildings at the Centre for Tropical Horticulture to the Alstonville Community College will "jeopardise important horticultural research and development projects", says the Australian Macadamia Society (AMS).
A spokesman for the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) last night confirmed that a lease for part of the buildings had been agreed with the college.
"The college is a highly suitable tenant for these facilities," the spokesman said.
"NSW DPI is intending to secure another tenant for the remaining office space available at the Alstonville facility.
"The lease will have no impact on the capacity for important horticultural research at the centre. Since the DPI horticultural research team moved to Wollongbar recently, they have continued to conduct their ongoing field studies at the Alstonville site."
But AMS chief executive, Jolyon Burnett, said giving the lease to the college would be an "appalling loss for the region and local food producers".
"This is a slap in the face for the horticultural industry, and the enormous economic contribution the industry makes," he said.
Mr Burnett said their proposal would have kept the centre as "the home for horticulture in the region".
"Even more disappointing is the fact the site has been handed over to an organisation that has contributed nothing and has no connection to the site," he said.
Narelle Millar from Alstonville Community College was contacted for a comment, but said she could not say anything at this stage.
Ballina MP Don Page last night said the college had long expressed an interest in the site.
He said initial discussions involved the college sharing the facility with the AMS.
However Mr Burnett said that arrangement was "not realistic".
"It's pretty clear to see that the department wants to sell this prime real estate," he said.
This was denied by the department spokesman, who said there were "no plans to sell the land surrounding the buildings".
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