THEY have dominated part of the Southampton skyline for more than five decades.

For thousands of Saints fans they are a familiar sight as they head off to St Mary's every weekend.

Now the two enormous gas holders in St Mary's could be consigned to the history books.

But even though they may appear to be an eyesore, city councillors could knock back demolition plans by Southern Gas Networks (SGN) - as they are locally listed buildings and therefore carry some planning protection.

Their status means that SGN must ensure whatever replaces the holders is an improvement on the structures.

And with the company saying it is “too early to say” what would go on the site, councillors will have to decide whether nothing at all is better than what is currently on the site.

It could also affect plans to redevelop the area surrounding St Mary's Stadium.

SGN says the holders - which were built in 1909 and 1935 respectively - are no longer required as there are more “cost-effective” methods for storing gas and the holders require “significant” maintenance.

The firm has already had one demolition application refused by the council due to a lack of information and what would happen to the site in Britannia Road afterwards.

And the fresh application being drawn up by SGN could face difficulty due to their locally listed heritage status.

While locally listed status, given to buildings of local significance or interest, is not the same as English Heritage's list of historically-significant buildings, Southampton City Council requires anything replacing the holders to be “of equal or greater quality” than what's already there.

Despite the firm wanting to knock the holders down, a spokesman for SGN said “at this stage it is too early to say what the future of the site will be”.

And while some will argue that nothing would be an improvement on the two enormous metal structures, that could lead to a refusal of the new application.

Also complicating the plans are the fact that the city council believes there may be remains of an Anglo Saxon settlement and possibly burials under the site, as well as fears over contamination.

But while the owners of the site say they have no immediate plans for the area the land surrounding St Mary's Stadium was last year the subject of some spectacular architect plans.

As reported in the Daily Echo in March last year, artist's impressions of a potential St Mary's Stadium expansion were released to the public.

The designs, drawn up AFL Architects, the firm who designed Saints new training ground at Staplewood, show a revamped St Mary's Stadium situated on an overhauled site.

They include a large building brandishing the Saints badge and buildings of modern designs to the Chapel side of the area.

However, the large gas holders are nowhere to be seen on the designs.

A year previously other artist's impressions of a revamped St Mary's were included on a DVD issued to all season ticket holders ahead of the 2012/2013 season.

They showed extensions to the Kingsland, Northam and Chapel stands, with a fresh frontage on the stadium.

A similar building was again attached to the back of what appeared to be the Chapel end of the stadium.

Saints did not comment on the proposals for the gas tanks when contacted by the Daily Echo.

A spokesman for the council said: “These factors would not prevent demolition, but impact on how the demolition must be managed.

“The council will require further information on the proposed works before it is able to support the demolition.”

Not everyone thinks of the holders as eyesores.

Solent Sky Museum director and historian Alan Jones said: “They were so much a part of the skyline in the area.

“The gas works were so much a part of the community.

“It would be a shame if they were to be demolished.”