On our travels around England in recent years I have been making notes and taking pictures for a book, which unfortunately nobody wants to publish - let's say it's a little along the lines of the Christmas hit of a few years ago Crap Towns, but a bit more analytical. Based on this research I would say that my own top 4 would have to include:
Stoke on Trent Corby St Austell Telford
For the coveted top position it's pretty much level between Stoke and Corby. On our visit to St Austell a couple of years back we were greeted by a huge hole where the town centre should have been (and a frightening pair of mulleted and moustachioed locals at the bar in the pub where we were going to have lunch, but decided against it) - maybe SA looks better now after redevelopment, but I doubt it.
Obviously there are historic and economic reasons why these towns are in such a bad way: the dead steel industry in Corby, defunct potteries in Stoke and rapidly declining china clay trade in St Austell. At least Stoke had a superb pottery museum (free and almost empty when we visited on a Saturday); however, having walked around its centre with hundreds of abandoned shops and pubs and having driven around streets of wasteground and dilapidated houses, yours for under £50,000, it probably wins. Corby was a town with no centre - there are signs miles out directing you past acres of deserted steel mills to its heart and when you finally reach it there is no 'there' there. Telford is just horrible - the worst of post-modern kit architecture with tons of reflecting glass-clad office blocks - everything designed for car access and no soul; ironically Ironbridge the 'cradle of the industrial revolution' is only a few miles away. My pics above: top the throbbing centre of Stoke, middle Corby, bottom Telford