A PLANNING inquiry is to be held into plans for 1,000 new homes on farmland which inspired Watership Down amid major opposition - including from its author before his death.

Developers have been trying to build on Sandleford Park near Newbury since it was allocated for development in 2012 with five failed applications so far.

In the iconic novel, rabbits flee Sandleford Warren, which is about to be destroyed by bulldozers.

And in a real-life echo of the fictional children's classic, protesters have been fighting development and said protected habitats and ancient woodlands would be at risk if it was allowed to go ahead.

But an appeal by developers against West Berkshire District Council's decision to refuse planning permission has been lodged and is now subject to an inquiry by the planing inspectorate.

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It is being steamed online and is expected to last until about 28 May.

Among those objecting to development of the site was the Watership Down author Richard Adams who spoke out about the proposals before his death five years ago.

Thousands of fans flock to the site in Hampshire each year to follow in the footsteps of the novel's gang of rabbits.

Adams, who grew up in the area, raised concern that the green fields and woodland which inspired his book were at risk of disappearing forever.

He said: "It is my firm belief that to build on the quiet meadows of Sandleford would be an ugly invasion, a nasty wound to one of the loveliest retreats in all Berkshire and Hampshire.

"I understand that houses need to be built, and that people need homes to live in.

"But any dispassionate examination of the situation leads to the emphatic conclusion that this land should not be built on.

"If Sandleford goes for development, it will be the thin end of the wedge.

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"Once an area of countryside has been broken into for development, the process continues until the whole area has been ruined. I might be dead, but how will you feel about that?'"

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has now called in the application for a final decision by his department.

The firms behind the planning appeal, Bloor Homes and Sandleford Farm Partnership, want outline permission to develop 114 hectares (1.1 square km).

Another company, Donnington New Homes, has also applied to build 440 homes on a separate part of the site.

The council said the appellants' "uncertain and contradictory" proposal failed to ensure the "holistic" development of the entire area.

Councillor Hilary Cole, in charge of planning, said: "These developers have not worked together despite telling us in 2012 that they would."

Protest group Say No To Sandleford has also been formed.

A spokesperson said: "The proposals would surround the ancient woodlands in a wall of concrete".

The appellants said they would demonstrate at the inquiry how they would "facilitate the comprehensive development of the allocated site".

They added there would be a 15m buffer between developed areas and ancient woodlands.