FEARS are growing that plans to build hundreds of homes could destroy the jealously guarded strategic gap between Eastleigh and big city neighbours Southampton.

Last night, after a marathon council meeting, Eastleigh councillors gave the green light to an outline plan to plant 432 homes on allotments in the town's South Street area.

With more than 10,000 people knocking on the council's door for a home, civic leaders said the land was desperately needed for affordable homes.

Development control chief Colin Peters said: "Central Eastleigh is of the greatest housing need and that is why South Street is crucial in that respect."

But the controversial development proposals, which have triggered a cabbage patch revolt with angry allotment gardeners marching on the civic offices, still have a long way to go before the first brick is laid.

They are likely to land in the in-tray of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who could call a public inquiry.

Mr Tony Murrills, vice chairman of the local allotments association, said: "There are plenty of hurdles and potential inquiries still ahead for these proposals."

But there was concern that the bricks and mortar invasion on the edge of the Lakeside Country Park could gobble up the green gap between Southampton and Eastleigh. Tory leader Councillor Godfrey Olson warned: "We will narrow the strategic gap between Eastleigh and Southampton."

Labour councillor Marilyn Birks was also concerned about the threat to the strategic gap. She said: "It is important not to lose that distinction between Eastleigh and Southampton."

There was also concern that by building on the South Street allotments they would destroy the community spirit that had been developed in that area.

Defending the proposals, leader of the Liberal Democrat-controlled council Keith House said: "We are here to give people the chance of a home to live in."