RUSKIN College says its proposals to build on fields in Old Headington are motivated by concern for Oxford’s homeless rather than greed.

The college has come under fire after details emerged of its plans to build houses on part of its Headington campus.

The proposals could see between 175 and 193 homes built on a three-and-a-half-hectare site which lies within the Old Headington conservation area.

But college principal Prof Audrey Mullender said the proposal was entirely in line with the college’s long-established ethos of giving people with few life opportunities a second chance.

And she hit out at opponents “with narrow vested interests” who she said were rushing to accuse Ruskin of opportunism and pushing its plans forward on the back of the planned Barton West estate, on the other side of the ring road.

Prof Mullender said the college’s interest in developing Ruskin Fields went back decades.

She said: “People have made allegations about the college having an eye for the main chance. But interest in this goes back long before I was here.”

Prof Mullender said it was natural for a college, founded to give people a second chance in education, to want to help the homeless.

“We are not selfish money grabbing people laying waste to a beautiful spot.

“We are a working college that happens to own land, and are concerned to help provide desperately needed housing for Oxford. We believe it is possible to develop part of our fields for that purpose without detriment to the surrounding area. It is natural for us to think about people having somewhere to live. It is the air we breathe. This is where we are coming from but we stand accused of cashing in.”

She also believed people were wrong to draw a distinction between the green areas within and outside the ring road.

She said: “The Barton plans cover the same fields. Historically, Ruskin Fields are the same as the ones that will be built on.”

Prof Mullender said development on both sides of the road could bring major benefits, with traffic speed reductions. The college was launching a community project to revive a walled garden and would leave a strip of land on the site to serve as a green buffer.

Veronica Hurst, co-chairman of the Ruskin Fields Group, said: “It is not really going to be a case of swopping medieval fields for homeless people.

“Ruskin College needs the money and a developer is going to have to pay a lot of money for the land.

“It is all very different from what the college was previously saying when it put in an application for its current mammoth building programme, when it said the fields were important for the setting of the buildings.”

Sarah King, chairman of the Friends of Old Headington, said: “I believe that the previous principal wanted to sell both Ruskin’s Old Headington and Walton Street sites for development and to resite the college in north Oxford.

“I don’t think that was about affordable housing.”