They are among the most sought-after family homes in the county and easily command price tags with six, if not seven, figures.

But by the end of the year they could be reduced to heaps of rubble - with the owners' backing.

Each house faces demolition in what is becoming the most controversial planning issue in Hove for decades.

The row has pitted some of the city's best-known faces against each other, with allegations that the developments will turn Hove into a concrete jungle.

However, those keen for their homes to be replaced with flats say they are motivated not just by flashing pound signs but also by a genuine desire to help solve the city's housing crisis.

MP Ivor Caplin has added his voice to calls for the city council to draw up a policy banning such development. He believes new flats for young couples are essential but not be at the expense of family houses.

Former boxing champion Chris Eubank's palatial modern home, with an annexe once used as a gym, stands in extensive grounds in The Upper Drive but could be knocked down and replaced with 116 flats.

The plans go before Brighton and Hove City Council today and are expected to be refused.

Round one, it appears, will go to the protesters.

Developer John Regan, of Birch Restorations, said 40 per cent of the flats would be at "affordable" prices, providing homes for key workers.

He said: "Chris has been approached by dozens of different developers but he is very fond of his house and does not want to see anything built that is not in keeping with the neighbourhood.

"There is an acre-and-a-half of land here and if he did not develop the site someone else would. The land is worth substantially more than the houses."

The council's planning experts have weighed in on the side of the protesters, who say the development would destroy the suburban character of Hove.

Opponents of the current rash of applications to replace family homes with blocks of flats hope this will be a test case.

But Eubank has promised to submit new plans if the present application is refused.

He said: "I can understand the views of people who oppose the scheme but this will contribute positively to society because it will provide a number of affordable homes."

Writer Julie Burchill is no stranger to controversy.

She is one of four home owners in Somerville Avenue who have agreed to allow their £1 million 1930s houses to be ripped down and replaced with 108 flats.

The Times columnist denies the development will change the character of the area but her neighbours disagree.

Actor Chris Ellison is leading protests against a similar proposal a few doors down from his home in Wilbury Avenue. Businessman Tony Talbot wants his delightful family home levelled and replaced by nine new flats.

Mr Ellison said: "There is no policy from the council on maintaining housing density so almost anywhere can be demolished.

"It is a fantastic house and he's been offered an extremely good price for it. But this is a family residential area and should remain so.

"People come to Hove because it's a nice place to live and a good place to bring up children. If everyone in this street sold their houses for development and put up blocks of flats, Hove would end up looking like a huge housing estate.

"Somebody has approached me but I like these houses and would not sell it for development."

Three householders have caused upset by agreeing to have their homes in Dyke Road demolished.

One is amongst the most well-kept in the area -a detached house with an original tiled roof, a sweeping drive and three garages.

Along with another detached house and a bungalow, it will be flattened to make way for 42 flats.

An equally impressive family home with a swimming pool just across the way in Withdean Avenue is also facing the wrecking ball.

The austere and very private Rushton House, on the corner of Dyke Road, would be replaced by 50 flats in a five-storey tower.

A taste of the future has been provided by the development in Palmeira Avenue, Hove, where a Victorian home has already gone.

Developers are close to completing a new block of 24 luxury homes and the neighbours are far from happy.

A new application has been lodged to tear down a house in Dorothy Road, Hove. It will be replaced with nine self-contained flats under plans submitted by Shaws Installations of Brighton.

As Brighton and Hove becomes ever more popular, the price of houses increases.

The trend for applying to demolish detached family homes and replacing them with flats is likely to continue unless there is some form of intervention from the town hall.

Developers are offering owners generous prices for their homes but planners can prevent the houses being demolished and rule on any new development.

However, coun Bob Carden, chair of the planning applications sub-committee, rejected Mr Caplin's call for new rules to prevent homes being demolished.

He said: "We have adequate measures in place in our local plan. We must take every planning application on its merits and consider all the factors.

"On the one hand we have a chronic need for housing but we must also take into account possible overdevelopment, visual effect, traffic implications and the impact on local services."

A council spokeswoman added: "Planning policy and Government guidance encourage maximum use of sites within the built-up area."

The changes conform with Government edicts that projects on brownfield sites should be given a clear run through the planning process.

But as more Victorian gems fall to the altar of housing need, neighbours remain concerned the march of the tower blocks will change the face of Hove forever.

Wednesday April 07, 2004