DEVELOPMENT plans that could help secure the future of the region's pioneering "murder mansion" could be approved next week.

Improvements to the UK's largest forensic teaching centre at Harperley Hall, near Crook, are being recommended for approval when they come before Wear Valley district councillors on Tuesday.

If they are passed, leaseholders Centrex, the Central Police Training and Development Authority, will submit a business plan for funding to allow the work to go ahead.

The scheme includes a major restoration of the 200-year-old hall, which is grade II-listed and has housed the National Training Centre for Scientific Support to Crime Investigation since 1990.

A modern student hostel block would be demolished, along with disused police stables and buildings housing the Durham force's dog section, which is looking for a new base.

New blocks would house classrooms and laboratories as well as living and leisure facilities for trainees who travel to the hall from all over the world.

Planning officers reporting to the council's development control committee say the changes would improve the site.

Durham Bat Group has been consulted and an archaeological survey is being undertaken after signs of a deserted medieval village were found in the area.

Peter Walton, dean of studies for the National Training Centre, said: "We are very conscious that we are in a grade II-listed site. It is a fabulous training environment for our students, who really enjoy their time here"