Hartlepool may boast a nuclear power station, a chemical works plant and nearly twice the national average unemployment rate but it could yet lead the way for a renaissance in British tourism.
The windswept north-east town, which last year elected a man in a monkey suit as mayor, almost two centuries after townsfolk hanged a monkey they mistook for a Frenchman, has been heralded as a model tourist attraction.
Thanks to VisitBritain, the UK's tourist authority which markets Britain overseas, it may finally shed its simian associations. Sir Michael Lickiss, the organisation's chairman, said the formerly down-at-heel town was one among a number of places that had transformed into stunning destinations.
"I was a bit surprised when I saw it, but there are so many hidden jewels in the country. Many towns and cities were derelict or disused and they have been regenerated. Places such as Newcastle, Gateshead, Birmingham or Hartlepool, with its European-style waterfront cafés, are fantastic for short breaks," he said.
Sir Michael said that while tourists would still be encouraged to visit the traditional attractions in London, a new Europe-wide campaign would invite tourists to sample the delights of 19 "mini-break" destinations including Hull, Derby, Belfast, Manchester Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford and Portsmouth. Norwich is being billed as "hot stuff" and Birmingham as having "more canals than Venice".
Hartlepool has experienced a radical regeneration over the past decade and £250m of government and private sector investment has transformed the town.
The ballet dancer Wayne Sleep, who was born and raised in Hartlepool, said he was delighted by the rebranding of his home town. "It's a great idea. Hartlepool's come along in leaps and bounds and visiting the historic marina is well worth the effort. There is life beyond London," he said.
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Tourist Board said the shopping, the reclaimed Victorian streets and the historic quay, which houses the UK's oldest warship afloat, HMS Trincomalee built in 1817, were prime attractions.
Geoff Lilley, a former Labour councillor, sounded a note of caution, however, warning that a flotilla of nuclear "ghost ships", due to arrive in Hartlepool from the US on 5 November, might rather blot the landscape.
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