A NEW campaign group has been launched to stop a student village being built on Warneford Meadow in Headington.

The battle over the development of 20 acres of open meadow entered a new phase this week with residents' groups uniting to form the Friends of Warneford Meadow.

Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust says the green site beside Warneford Hospital is "surplus to requirements" and it is seeking to build more than 2,000 homes for students and key workers. There are also proposals for major research facilities.

Three residents' associations - Hill Top Road, Highfield and Divinity Road - have now come together to "stop the meadow disappearing under concrete".

The new group held exhibitions this week at Cheney School and Wood Farm Community Centre featuring paintings of Warneford Meadow along with photographs and historical records to highlight its importance to the community. A public meeting is also being organised, with the planning application expected to go before the East Oxford Parliament next month.

The group says the meadow is a much loved recreational area and the impact of the scheme has been played down by development consultants.

One of its founders, Laura Elliott, said: "The massive increase in population will create serious problems of overcrowding in an already densely populated area, significantly increase air pollution, and exacerbate already intolerable traffic and parking congestion. And it will add further pressure to strained utilities and local services.

"This will completely destroy this unique open space. Even the developers acknowledge that the meadow is a rich habitat for wildlife, home to skylarks and other vanishing species."

She said the need for student accommodation and research facilities "on this scale" had not been proven and added: "Although there is some local sympathy for keyworker housing, there are many better brown-field locations."

The group will also receive the strong backing of the Oxfordshire CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England).

The CPRE described the proposals as deliberately misleading in claiming that only 53 per cent of the site would be affected.

Spokesman Andy Boddington said: "The scale of the development is such that the whole meadow and its adjacent wooded boundaries will be dominated by light and noise pollution."

The mental health trust has submitted five separate planning applications to develop land at Warneford Meadow, Park Hospital and Warneford Playing Fields.

A spokesman for the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said: "We want to use the money which a sale would raise to improve the settings for patient care, by refurbishing wards and patient areas and building new modern premises.

"We also would like to gain support for the surplus land to be used for keyworker housing, as many people employed by the NHS in Oxfordshire cannot afford to live in the area."

The trust said it recognised the importance of therapeutic space for people using mental health services and that two large open spaces would remain at the hospital. It is hoping to sell the land by next spring.

The trust says it has attempted to remain close to the local plan but the final decision about the suggested uses lay with the city council There are two planning applications each for the Warneford Meadow and Park Hospital sites, one for residential use and one for research purposes. There is a further application to build social housing on a football pitch.