It is the prize that nobody wants. Even pensioner Jeanette Hart, asked in the street if she would accept the Carbuncle award on behalf of the people of Coatbridge, quickly gave it back.

The town centre was named yesterday as the most dismal place in Scotland and the trophy - the Plook on the Plinth - is not something you would want on your mantlepiece. It looks like a lump of screaming-red modelling clay, mounted on an ugly green wooden base.

"I could put it in the cupboard, but I think it would get in the way," said Mrs Hart, 68, who has lived in Coatbridge for 35 years. "Maybe I could use it as a doorstop but I would fall over it and break my leg."

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She graciously handed the Plook back to the organisers of the Carbuncle Awards, run by Prospect architecture magazine in Glasgow, for safekeeping. No-one from North Lanarkshire Council had turned up to accept the prize, which past winners Cumbernauld did in good humour two years on the trot. After Airdrie, Coatbridge yesterday made it an unenviable hat-trick of towns for the area.

However, do the awards, voted on by the public, succeed in their aim of shaming bad architecture and town planning or do they just give a negative tag to areas struggling to cope with factors outwith their immediate control?

Local politicians were emphatic in their response. Elaine Smith, Coatbridge and Chryston MSP, said: "Over the past decade, Coatbridge has worked hard to shake off its dirty old town' image, a view based on the heavy industry and furnaces of years gone by that were an integral part of the town's growth and its history. Coatbridge is now a vibrant town which has benefited from investment in its town centre, the environment, schools and leisure facilities.

"In any case, the Prospect people should get out of their ivory tower, have a look at the real Coatbridge and stop insulting us by their patronising publicity stunt designed to sell their product. This award, aside from being an insulting cheap shot, is really becoming quite tiresome and I think it's time it was binned."

Tom Maginnis, regeneration convener at North Lanarkshire Council, was also disappointed. He said: "The people from Prospect will probably be sitting in the wine bars of Glasgow tonight drinking gin and tonics and feeling rather pleased with themselves that they made it on to TV and into the newspapers.

"But this is a nonsensical award and it really concerns me the damage they are doing to North Lanarkshire. This is the third time in the past six years that they have given the award to one of our towns. There is a big world out there and they have chosen to ignore it, and ignore many good things about Coatbridge."

Judges of the awards chose Coatbridge because of its "strange" traffic management policies and poor retail facilities. They described the town's Quadrant Shopping Centre as "a direct lift from the set of Camberwick Green" and said the new clocktower was something "designed on the back of a beer mat".

They also expressed their dismay at the town centre's "dark and dingy public square", derelict swimming pool and "appalling" public art and street furniture.

Penny Lewis, editor of Prospect, said the pedestrianisation of the town had done it no favours. "If you pedestrianise a town centre, visitors normally just see the back of shops and the ring road.

"You need to have a good strategic approach and in Coatbridge the council hasn't really tried. There are a lot of people living very close to the centre of the town so it has everything going for it in terms of it being a busy place, but you will see that a lot of the shops have been closed down."

So what about the citizens? Do people like Mrs Hart think the town deserves such a badge of dishonour? She said: "It's really not that bad. I like Coatbridge there are just a couple of wee eyesores, but the town centre is quite nice, they put down all these new cobbles. I don't agree that it is the most dismal town. It's quite a prosperous wee town."

Maureen Craig, of the Fresh Fruit grocers on Main Street, was taken aback by the Carbuncle tag. She said: "Go to the top floor of the restaurant Waterman's and look out the window. Tell me if you don't think it is like looking out on a little piece of France, with all the beautiful churches. What other wee town has such a nice main street, with the church which has been all cleaned up and the new pedestrian area. They have worked hard at picking the place up."

Without doubt, shopping has suffered in Coatbridge but, like most places, that is because of out-of-town centres pulling trade away from traditional high streets. A What Every Woman Wants shop has lain empty for more than 15 years, but a planning application is in to revive the three-storey site with a restaurant. An Indian restaurant and piano bar is also planned for Main Street.

While the more dated parts of old Coatbridge may struggle to keep up appearances, millions of pounds are being invested in the town's future. The £10m Summerlee Heritage Centre will be Scotland's museum of industry, in the heart of Coatbridge.

Another £2m will be spent on a new NHS building plus library opposite the shopping centre, which will see the town's old pool and Turkish bath pulled down following 15 years or so of dereliction, accelerated by the creation of Coatbridge's Time Capsule.

Good news for Coatbridge, perhaps, but for Penny Lewis the fact that the new building has been designed by the same firm responsible for Cumbernauld's new shopping centre - a past award nominee - has set off the bad design jitters.

She said that "cost and ambition" were the two main killers of good design. "I am not living in cloud -cuckoo land. It does take money to do things well but I think it should be put to planners, developers and politicians that when they do spend money it should be done with creativity and imagination," she said.

For the business community, though, the Plook award seemed out of step with an upturn in Coatbridge's fortunes. Mark Higgins, of Remax Estate agents, said that property prices had increased 40% over two years.

He said: "What I do agree with is that some of the architecture in Coatbridge is a little dated but you have to appreciate that is often the responsibility of private enterprises. The awards don't recognise the amazing economic growth in Coatbridge.

"I really don't think that in a truly dismal town you would get house prices for family homes touching the £500,000 mark and you would have year-on-year relocations from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Does that sound like Scotland's most dismal place to you?"

Best' of the rest from a casino by the Clyde to a shopping centre in Pollok The Zit Building award: The Casino, Springfield Quay, Glasgow The casino should have been a sure-fire winner in terms of glamorising Clydeside but unfortunately the building shows little flair in terms of design or creativity. Judges described it as a "disastrous addition" to the regeneration of the area and termed it a waste of a fantastic location. The casino is set to benefit from an opulent interior, but the outside looks more like a car park than a place to lose yourself - and your money - of an evening.

Pock Mark award for worst planning decision: Silverburn Shopping Centre, Pollok, Glasgow

With 95 shops, 14 restaurants and 4500 free parking spaces, Silverburn is sure to get shopaholics salivating but Glasgow's newest "shopping experience" has left the judges cold. Judges questioned whether the city needed another giant retail development that was away from the city centre and, while they did not dislike the shopping centre itself, they thought that its design was overwhelmed by the car park.

Coatbridge classics St Andrew's Church Red sandstone church accentuated by a rule that all buildings in its shadows should be just one-storey tall. Built by the Bairds of Gartsherrie, former steel industrialists of the town.

Coatbridge Municipal Buildings Built in 1894, typical example of the muscular public buildings from Victorian times. Half of it - the old town hall - burned down in the 1960s but the building remains as education offices.

Clifton Parish Church Used to be named after the Coats family who built it, and said to be based on the old townhouses of Bruges from where the wealthy landowners, also of Gartsherrie, originally came.

Time Capsule The swimming pool and ice rink was the jewel of Coatbridge's renaissance. At an estimated £20m, it put the town back on the map after dwindling industrial fortunes.

Blairhill and Dunbeth estates Fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian estates, built to house the growing middle classes of Coatbridge and Glasgow in roomy villas and apartments.