Darlington is to become one of six towns in England to share in almost £17m of funding to get people on their bikes.

It has been chosen as one of the new Cycling Demonstration Towns to share £8.4m Government funding, matched by local authorities.

For Darlington, this means funding of £3m over the next three years, half from the Government.

The aim of the project is for the chosen towns to encourage people to use pedal power.

The funds will be used to make the environment more cyclist-friendly, offering safety training and promotion.

Darlington Borough Council is joined in the scheme by Brighton, Derby, Exeter, Lancaster and Aylesbury following recommendations from Cycling England - an independent body set up by the Department for Transport last March.

Originally, 32 local authorities expressed an interest in the scheme.

Nick Wallis, the council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "This money will ensure Darlington becomes more cycle-friendly and will encourage more people to enjoy the health and environmental benefits of cycling."

The announcement was made by Transport Minister Derek Twigg.

He said: "Cycling is a fun, healthy and environmentally-friendly way to travel. Research has shown cycling can improve fitness and reduce obesity which can cause serious health problems."

Chairman of Cycling England Phillip Darnton said: "People want to cycle and we must work together to help them do so more safely and more often."