THE sale signs have finally gone up on one of Menston's best-known and important landmarks - High Royds Psychiatric Hospital.

The site, which extends to more than 200-acres, and includes the original Victorian asylum, is expected to attract multi-million pound bids from developers with plans expected to range from offices, houses, leisure facilities, or even a hotel. The sale will also include the hospital's cemetery on the opposite side of Bradford Road.

Owner of the site, NHS Estates, has given Leeds property agent Weatherall, Green and Smith the task of advertising and marketing the land.

But residents living near and far from the former hospital have expressed concern about the sale. Some are worried about the future use of the land, while others claim the site should be saved for a new Wharfedale Hospital. Other residents have said they feel sad to lose something which for many years has stood at the heart of the community.

The Menston Asylum, as it was originally called, opened in October 1888, and was built under the forerunner of West Riding County Council, County Government of Quarter Sessions.

After much bargaining on the part of the local authority, the land was bought for £18,000 in 1886, from landowner Ayscough Fawkes, of Farnley Hall. The initial hospital building was intended to hold 800 patients, with space for a total of 1,300 patients created by building extensions.

The hospital even came complete with its own branch railway line, situated at the back of the hospital grounds. The line cost just £5,000 to build, including the cost of the land.

High Royds was said to be one of the reasons - along with the railway - for the growth of the village of Menston.

The hospital's older buildings were awarded Grade II Listing in 1989, providing them with the same level of protection as many of Yorkshire's other buildings of special historical or architectural interest. Preservation of High Royds was regarded as important because it was one of only two asylums built to the 'echelon plan' of architectural design.

The hospital has long corridors leading off at angles from the main administration block to the wards - giving all wards south-facing views, and allowing different types of patients to be separated for supervision.

Agent Weatherall, Green and Smith is now producing glossy marketing brochures for the High Royds site. The agent has not put a specific price on the land - expected to fetch millions - and says it is awaiting offers from potential developers.

A spokesman said: "We are inviting developers to express interest, to give an indication of the sort of price they're talking about, and the kind of plans for it. We are proposing to create a shortlist so that they can go into it in rather more detail."

He said the types of plan expected would be for mixed development, which could include employment uses, leisure use - possibly a hotel - and residential housing use.

But the eventual buyer of the site will have to take into account Leeds City Council's planning brief for High Royds.

One of the concerns of the future of High Royds, was the need to protect the listed buildings. And a development brief drawn up by Leeds City Council last year recommended all the listed buildings should be retained.

The planning brief has no objection to the demolition of some newer buildings on the site, and recommends mixed use of the site, including leisure, employment use, and limited housing.

Graham Hoult, of green belt action group GAMGBAG, said members would actively seek to have a say in the development of the hospital site.

He said: "The most important thing for the local people is what will happen to High Royds. Those who live on the edge of Guiseley and Menston want to see that the final development is in keeping with the local landscape. GAMGBAG wants to applaud Leeds City Council for producing some really sensitive guidelines. We feel very well represented."

Mr Hoult said the closure of the hospital would evoke mixed feelings in nearby residents. He said most would be glad to see patients being moved to better facilities, but many would be sad to lose the hospital.

"There will be a degree of sadness to see it close, it's part of the fabric of the community," he said.

But many still argue High Royds is the ideal site to relocate Wharfedale General Hospital.

More than 1,000 residents signed a GAMGBAG-organised petition calling for High Royds to be retained as a back-up until the future of the Wharfedale Hospital's replacement is secure. And residents of Menston are still arguing the case.

Ilkley parish councillor Audrey Brand recently put forward the case to Leeds Health Authority, and believes the site should not be sold off before it has been properly considered.

She said: "High Royds is like the centre of the area. It has public transport, including rail transport, and the main A65 road."

High Royds Hospital itself is expected to close in 2003 with in-patients being transferred to

different hospitals across Leeds.