PLANS for a divisional police headquarters are expected to move a step nearer next month.

Middlesbrough Council is being asked to lease a site which has been earmarked for the new base at a peppercorn rate for 60 years.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough and the Church of England, owners of adjoining parcels of land, are also negotiating with Cleveland Police Authority.

A planning officers' report to Middlesbrough Council described the proposed headquarters as "a landmark development".

The divisional headquarters would be built under a private finance initiative and the police authority hopes work will start this spring.

John Richardson, the council's executive director for the environment, said the police had a strictdeadline to meet and delays in agreeing to lease the land might compromise those police authority deadlines and jeopardise the project.

Part of the land was the site of St Christopher's School, closed in 1997 and demolished the following year, the cleared site of the old cathedral destroyed by arsonists, and five houses, which were acquired by the council between 1993 and 2003.

The new station, which is part of a £20m Cleveland Police building programme, will have 50 cells and could open in October next year.