PLANS to set up an anti-graffiti squad in Hartlepool have moved a step closer.

The plans, in partnership with the Teesside Probation Service, were drawn up following the success of a pilot project last year.

The squad will operate mainly in seven of the most disadvantaged council wards - Brus, St Hilda's, Dyke House, Jackson, Stranton, Owton and Rossmere, although it will carry out clean-ups in other parts of the town.

It will be manned by between three and five offenders from Hartlepool who are serving community sentences. Squad members will tour the town and erase graffiti by blasting it with heated water from high-pressure jets.

A Neighbourhood Renewal Fund contribution of £4,000 will also be spent on the scheme, although the squad's launch still hinges on the success of a bid to the European Social Fund (ESF) for almost £45,000 to cover the cost of both equipment and the salary of a co-ordinator.

The scheme should be operating by April.

Councillor John Lauderdale said: "The image of the town has improved considerably in recent years but graffiti continues in some areas.

"This squad will enable us to tackle the problem in a co-ordinated way."