A COSTLY planning battle is looming after Oxford City Council vowed to fight housing proposals for Oxford's Warneford Meadow.

Councillors claim they had tried to keep talks going with land-owner, the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, in a bid to avoid an expensive planning appeal.

But time appears to be running out - and if an appeal is needed it could cost the public purse more than £200,000.

The council says it deferred the application, for student and key worker accommodation on the Headington site, to allow further discussions between planners and the trust.

But with an appeal looming, the city council confirmed that if it had not deferred a decision, it had been of a mind to refuse the plans.

Councillors were worried several different plans for the site had been submitted and breached the council's planning policies.

The council's deputy leader David Rundle said the authority was ready to fight an appeal.

He said: "The reasons are around the fact the proposal did not reflect what is in the local plan. Whilst the local plan inspector said it was allowable to build on the meadow it was not in the way set out in the proposal.

"The reason the strategic development committee had not made a decision was to try to encourage the trust back to the table. If it is necessary the council will go to the appeal table and justify its position robustly."

An appeal would be a double burden on taxpayers with the estimated cost to both public sector organisations running into six-figures.

Mr Rundle said the exact figure was difficult to judge.

"It would be a high figure. This will be an extended and expensive process, particularly because of how complicated the major issues are.

"It will cost in terms of money and time."

The mental health trust wants to develop the land in order to raise millions of pounds to improve services including a new Highfield Adolescent Unit and to upgrade the Vaughan Thomas and Wintle wards for adults.

But its plans for a student village have also met with opposition from the local community.

The Friends of Warneford Meadow has lodged an application to have the area officially designated as a town green.

A hearing is set for October.