Britain's ugliest and dullest towns

Updated: 

Gateshead

Britain has been voting for the ugliest towns in the UK. The competition for the ugliest town in the country has been tough, as 'new towns' vied with those suffering radical 1960s makeovers, and those being rebuilt largely out of concrete after the war.

So which towns have taken the title, and which will be voted the dullest towns?


The survey was carried out by a website from the people who brought us Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK. The first edition sold over 100,000 copies in 2003, and is being updated after the towns singled out for naming and shaming have had a decade to put things right.

It is carrying out a number of surveys on a series of factors. The first was the ugliest town, which has identified some truly hideous architecture. But who took the title?

1. Hemel Hempstead

After the Second World War, the bombing which had decimated UK cities lead to radical rethinking about how we live. The authorities decided that rebuilding cramped city centre homes was not a great idea, and took the opportunity to impose a vision of high rise city living, and a series of 'new towns', where people could live in more comfort.

Hemel Hempstead was one of these towns, built around a lovely old town just north of London. Unfortunately, an early radical redesign of a 'city in a garden' were rejected, and the developers settled for concrete and roundabouts. The explosion of growth took place between the 1960s and the 1970s - not eras known for the longevity of design.

The development of the Riverside in 2005 extended the shopping precinct and had two effects: first was the decline of the traditional centre, and the second was widespread disappointment at the appearance of the new centre.

2. Luton

Post war development meant an explosion of estates in Luton, but its position in the list of ugliest towns owes a great deal to the decision to demolish a large part of the town centre in the 1960s and build the Arndale Centre. Its facelift in the 1990s improved matters, but could only do so much.

Major regeneration is underway, with the first of the new buildings opening in 2007. However, until the work is complete, it's unlikely Luton will be known for its beauty.

3. Slough

Air raids during the Second World War, which destroyed much of old Slough, and created enormous demand from people moving from London are largely to blame for the rapid expansion of the town in the post-war era.

Slough has seen major redevelopment since 2010, and could see almost £1 billion spent on the town by 2018. It seems from this survey, however, that change is not coming as quickly as many people would like.

4. Bracknell

Another post-war new town, dominated by 1960s architecture, Bracknell also suffers from the fact it has grown far bigger than was ever envisaged. To make matters worse, the much-needed redevelopment has been years in the planning stages, but because of the financial crisis was on hold for years.

Some development has started, but it is slow, and is leaving large parts of the centre of town empty for long periods, which isn't improving the appearance of the town in the interim.

5. Birmingham

The city suffered enormously from a radical re-envisioning in the 1960s, which led to the major features being the ring road, the high rise housing, and the enormous concrete edifice of the Bull Ring.

Thee has been some dramatic redevelopment of the Bullring, the canal-side and The Mail Box. Recently Birmingham New Street station had a major overhaul too. However, for those taking the survey, this isn't enough to extinguish the ghost of the 1960s. Hopefully the council's Big City Plan for a total overhaul will do the job when it is complete.

6. Camberley

There's plenty of beauty in Camberley, but it's unlikely to be the 19th century homes that earned it a reputation for ugliness. This may have more to so with the 1950s building to re-house those in Surrey who lost their homes in the Second World War.

The town has seen recent major development with The Atrium opened in 2008. Clearly it didn't impress the voters in this survey.

7. Coventry

It's a sad place to find a city known for its beauty before the Second World War, but after heavy bombing and 1960s building, Coventry is not a place of outstanding architecture. The modernist cathedral may divide commentators, but there's no denying it's not as easy on the eye as its predecessor.

8. Cumbernauld

This was another new town, built to house overspill from Glasgow in the 1950s and 60s. The 'meastructure' housing was much-praised at the time, but the vision in high-rise concrete is not universally loved.

Must of the North of the town is leafy and pleasant, but this is presumably not the bit of Cumbernauld that lingers in the memory of the voters.

The town has had a major makeover since 1997, but the empty old town shopping centre - which was never as busy as the planners intended - has not been improved by decades of under-use.

9. Hatfield

This is yet another new town that suffers from the predominant architecture when it was built. The town was designed with plenty of open spaces, which have remained to this day, but it is not a place of great beauty. Hatfield is yet another town undergoing regeneration, so there's hope that it will shake off its reputation for ugliness shortly

10. Gateshead

The area gained a poor reputation for design at an early stage, and didn't benefit by being dominated by a brutalist 1960s car park for decades. In fact attempts at regeneration in the 1960s didn't do the place many favours.

More recent redevelopment since 2000 has been far more effective, and resulted in the demolition of a number of buildings - including the car park - as well as the building of the Gateshead Quays area.

The question is whether this survey is right, or whether those who voted failed to notice the regeneration, or the beauty in these towns.

Next the website is asking us to vote on the dullest towns in the UK. The shortlist so far is:

Banbury
Boston
Bury St Edmunds
Burnham Market
Camberley
Chipping Norton
Fort William
Hatfield
Leamington Spa
Maidenhead
Rhyl
Thetford

What do you think? Is the website right, or do other towns deserve a place on both these lists?

The top ten DIY projects: are they worth it?

The top ten DIY projects: are they worth it?


More stories