OXFORDSHIRE’S mental health trust has entered the race to gain ownership of one of Oxford’s most well-known town greens.

Warneford Meadow in Headington is set to be sold off by the Department of Health but its official marketing has been delayed after Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust expressed interest.

The trust has pledged that if it gains control of the site it would honour a deal that allows the Friends of Warneford Meadow to maintain the 18-acre meadow.

Andrew Carter – of the friends group, which had been preparing to buy the land – said: “We very much hope that if the trust does take ownership of the meadow we will be able to maintain is as a resource for patients and members of the community.”

Seven years ago Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Healthcare Trust – which the trust was then called – submitted a plan to build nearly 700 student flats on the meadow.

Campaigners successfully registered it as a protected town green, which prevented any development. That was then upheld after the trust challenged the decision in the High Court.

Now Wendy Samways, a spokesman for the trust, said: “The trust is currently in discussions with the Department of Health regarding the transfer of Warneford Meadow to the trust.

“There are several financial and legal issues that need to be addressed and it is unlikely that any transfer will take place before the end of the month.

“We now acknowledge that it would be of benefit to the trust and to the local community as a whole if Warneford Meadow was to remain in the ownership of the NHS.”

She said the decision to take ownership of the meadow had nothing to do with criticisms of the hospital in a recent Care Quality Commission report.

The independent healthcare watchdog raised concerns about the restricted garden access at the nearby Warneford Hospital that the trust runs. She said it was simply down to the fact that there had been a “change of heart”.

Warneford Hospital bought the meadow in 1918 to use it as a therapeutic open space for its patients.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have been approached by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust who has advised that they wish to reconsider taking ownership of the meadow.

“In order to allow time for the trust to consider the matter further, we have agreed to defer putting the land on the market.”

The value of the land is understood to have fallen from as much as £30m in 2006 before it gained town green status to as little as £500,000 now.

Originally the department had offered the land to both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council but both turned down the opportunity to buy it.