COUPLES tying the knot will receive a better start to married life, thanks to a multi-million investment programme.

Cash from Durham County Council has been used to improve the decor at register offices throughout the county, open up and upgrade garden areas and take on extra staff.

The Registration Service has also been awarded Investor in People status in recognition of the high quality of service it provides.

In addition, more approved premises for marriages are now available, giving couples a choice of 24 of County Durham's most beautiful and unusual buildings and four register offices.

David Dixon, the council's public services manager, said: "More than £45,000 has been invested in the Registration Service.

"This has enabled us to recruit reception staff at Durham, Bishop Auckland and Stanley register offices to welcome and assist the public.

"In the past they would have had to follow arrows directing them through the building."

Work is already under way on the gardens at the Durham and Peterlee register offices.

The garden at Durham has always been open to wedding parties, but the opening of the gardens at Peterlee is a major change. It means that for the first time, couples can have their photographs taken there.