If the builders get the go-ahead, 15 miles of open fields will be swallowed up. The developers, a consortium of Alfred McAlpine, Taylor Woodrow and Persimmon Homes, point to the demand for new homes in the area. People want to live around the M4 corridor because there is high employment and good road links with the rest of the country. A new industrial centre is currently being built west of Reading, creating jobs and increased demand for new homes.
Opposition has come from 32 parish councils and the Readinstoke Action Group, comprising local villagers and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.
The CPRE believes an important planning principle is at stake. When the M4 was built in 1967, a commitment was given by Berkshire CC that the arable land and open countryside would remain rural - effectively an unofficial green belt. Since then, the M4 has been a barrier, limiting development southwards. But in 1996 John Gummer, then environment secretary, instructed Berkshire to find land for 2,500 homes.
A public inquiry into the scheme, which continues until October, will test the government's preference, outlined last week by planning minister Richard Caborn, that developers should build in cities where possible and only turn to countryside when there are no industrial or brownfield sites available in existing towns.