'Sunderland is fourth worst city in Britain'

Proud Wearsiders today hit back at claims that tourists are shunning Sunderland because it has nothing to see and they loathe the Mackem accent.

The city was named the fourth least visited in the UK and at risk of being lost to future generations of travellers, in a report by hotel chain Travelodge.

The firm, which has a hotel in Low Row, polled 5,000 travellers and 69 per cent said Sunderland has nothing to offer them, and a quarter would avoid it because they dislike the local accent.

But civic leaders and city ambassadors have criticised the poll.

"They purely do these surveys for their own publicity," said council leader Paul Watson.

"It's just somebody sitting in an office in the south of England, looking at an ordnance survey map and deciding there's nothing in Sunderland.

"It's got nothing to do with reality and what the region actually has to offer visitors.

"There are natural attractions and built attractions abound."

Conservative group leader Lee Martin said he did not believe that people disliked the "friendly" Mackem accent, but said "everyone knows" Sunderland has an image problem, especially with the state of the city centre.

He said: "We can do as much glossy marketing as we want, but we have to change the fabric of the city to bring more visitors here.

"Having said that, we have got strengths within the city, the river and the seafront, but we don't get enough out of them."

Coun Martin said that it the cash spent on Sunniside had been put to use developing the seafront it would be "packed every day."

Best-selling author Sheila Quigley, from Houghton, labelled the Travelodge survey "utter rubbish."

She said: "I have been all over the place and people tell me that they love the accent.

"I always remember a reporter said when I signed my first book deal 'You'll be moving down to London now then won't you?'

"Why would I move to London when I am six miles from the sea, an hour-and-a-half from the Yorkshire Dales and an hour-and-a-half from Scotland?

"Perhaps though we don't promote Sunderland enough."

The Travelodge study named Bradford as the nation's least visited city, nearby Wakefield was second, Dundee was third, and Newport, in Wales, was fifth.

Travelodge spokeswoman Shakila Ahmed said: "We live in a world of misconceptions.

"A significant proportion of the images of cities we have in our minds may be biased, out of date and not in tune with reality."

TO help Britons reacquaint themselves with the top three least visited cities, Travelodge listed attractions to see there.

Because the hotel chain did not do the same for Sunderland, the Echo has given it a helping hand:

* Seafront

* Penshaw Monument

* National Glass Centre

* Herrington Country Park

* Museum and Winter Gardens

* St Peter's Church, bidding to be a World Heritage Centre

* Empire Theatre

* International Airshow

* Stadium of Light - SAFC and summer gigs

* Washington Old Hall

* Kite festival

* Sunderland Aquatic Centre