THE LONG-AWAITED inquiry into plans for almost 500 homes on a former landfill site in Woodley began today (Tuesday).

A packed Oakwood Centre Theatre heard opening statements from protesters, developers and the council as planning inspector David Nicholson hears an appeal against a decision to refuse homes, a retirement village, shops and leisure facilities on the site.

Representing planning agents Indigo Planning, who are acting on behalf of developers Woodley Developments, Nathalie Lieven QC said: 'This is a scheme based on the best and most up to date urban design principles which provides highly liveable space, not subservient to the car, with very high quality amenity space which will give the scheme a very attractive appearance.

'In contrast the council in its evidence has refused to acknowledge the benefits of high quality modern residential development and appears to have had a slavish regard to the wholly uninspiring developments in the vicinity of the site, and refuses to acknowledge the benefits of and indeed need for increasing densities in areas such as this.'

Councillors at Wokingham Borough rejected the specific plans for Sandford Farm put forward by Woodley Developments at a meeting in January on the grounds that there were too many high buildings near the edge of a countryside area. They also said the layout did not comply with the principles paid out in the Wokingham Residential Design Guide.

Representing Loddon Valley Action Group (LVAG) who are campaigning against the development, Lisa Busch said: 'It (Sandford Farm) forms part of a trusted and valued rural heritage near an area where people live and it"s local residents who have to experience this development.'

The inquiry also heard from Joe Cunnane, planning consultant to Wokingham Borough Council who said that apartment blocks in the south east and northeast corners of the site formed an unacceptable "hard edge" next to a countryside area.

David Parker, chair of Loddon Valley Action Group, and Reading East MP are both set to give evidence to the inquiry tomorrow (Wednesday)

The hearing is due to hear from a number of residents and is expected to last until Tuesday of next week.