RESIDENTS' fears of a "student village" being built in Headington have forced a scaling down of plans to develop Warneford Meadow.

A health trust says it now wants to create accommodation for 685 students on the sensitive green site, not 1,950 as originally proposed.

And as well as reducing student numbers by two thirds, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Trust plans to halve the size of new buildings for research, health care and education.

But the news has failed to appease the Friends of Warneford Meadow, the campaign group battling to stop the development of 20 acres of open meadow within the city.

At an emergency meeting on Wednesday, protesters said the trust was still bent on "destroying the meadow" with a scheme that would worsen Headington's traffic congestion.

And the group warned it was pressing to have Warneford Meadow registered as a town green. The meadow, made up of grassland and an orchard next to Warneford Hospital, stretches between Headington and East Oxford. Bought by the hospital in 1918 with money from public subscription, the meadow is rich in wildlife and used both by local residents and patients.

News of the trust's compromise plan comes three weeks before the scheme goes before the city's north east area committee. The health trust says the land is surplus to requirements and would provide much-needed cash for patient care.

Trust spokesman, Jane Appleton, said: " It is widely acknowledged that mental health services need money to provide better environments to care for patients. The sale of the plots of land is the only option we have for making the improvements in the foreseeable future."

Plans for a landmark building at the entrance to the scheme have been dropped, with the height of buildings limited to three storeys. The number of key worker homes on the site would increase from 300 to 325, taking up at least a third of the developed site.

Medical research, education and health care buildings would each be limited to 12,250sq m, not 24,500 sq m as originally proposed. Overall, the new plan, would see the proportion of the site being developed fall from 53 to 50 per cent. But the trust's hopes of acquiring outline planning permission by the end of January could be severely dented by the bid to have Warneford Meadow registered as a town green. An application has been submitted to Oxfordshire County Council by environmental campaigner Paul deLuce, along with scores of statements of support.

He said: "The meadow has a tremendous variety of wildlife and local people really value it. Registering the meadow as a town green is only the first step.

"We want to see the meadow enhanced with more wildlife-friendly planting to improve the whole wildlife corridor running through East Oxford, and to encourage more people to use this rare surviving piece of open land in a densely built-up area."

The application will raise the prospect of a lengthy legal battle. The successful campaign to have the Trap Grounds registered as a town green lasted four years and went to the House of Lords.

Julie Waldron, chief executive of the mental health trust, said: "Although we initially expected determination back in the autumn, we have used the time to refine and adjust our original applications to take into account the views of residents."

She has written to residents inviting them to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the amended plans.

But the Friends of Warneford Meadow, made up of three residents' associations, will boycott the meeting on the grounds that there is insufficient time to consult members. And they criticised the trust for presenting the plans immediately after the Christmas break.

The co-ordinator of the Friends of Warneford Meadow group, Boeles Sietske, said: "We would like to meet the trust in order to discuss the town green application. The new amendments offer only marginal changes.

"The basic point is the meadow would still be destroyed and the scheme would lead to a huge volume of traffic."