18/01/2012 09:29 GMT | Updated 19/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Catherine Cookson Removed From Road Signs In North East Rebranding Project

Signs celebrating the birthplace of a revered romantic novelist have been scrapped in a bid to rebrand a working-class North East borough.

For more than 25 years, visitors to South Tyneside were greeted by road signs welcoming them to "Catherine Cookson Country".

However a plan to promote the borough as an "outstanding place to live, visit, learn and do business" has seen these replaced - by beach scenes.

Council bosses said the move would help drive the economic and cultural regeneration of the area.

Cookson fans said the move was a brutal attempt to rewrite history.

Once described as the area's "favourite and most famous and daughter", the 100 million-selling author was born in Tyne Dock, South Shields.

Her novels described the hardship of life in the shipyards and coalfields of Tyneside at the turn of the 19th century, and detailed the social class differences experienced by the characters she created.

She remains one of the most-borrowed authors in British libraries, with works including The Fifteen Streets and the Mallen trilogy among her best-sellers.

Spokesman for the Romantic Novelists' Association Catherine Jones regretted South Tyneside Borough Council's decision to do away with the signs.

She said: "I can sympathise with them wanting to market themselves with something other than their industrial heritage and the struggle and hardship that went with that, but Dame Catherine and her work are such a huge part of the area's culture.

"She should be celebrated.

"It is sad that they are abandoning her; it seems quite brutal.

"Her work can be rather gritty but it is still borrowed by the pallet load at libraries so it is still popular stuff.

"I do not wish the council ill but I hope they live to regret it."

Council bosses said the initiative would raise the borough's regional, national and international profile, and would help build tourism and economic regeneration.

They said they were considering new ways to attract visitors to the borough through its links to the author, and would still be promoting Cookson-themed tours.

A spokesman told The Shields Gazette: "The Cookson Country brand has served the borough well for more than 25 years.

"We are extremely proud of its success, but feel the time is right to consider new branding that reflects our desire to promote South Tyneside as an outstanding place to live, visit, learn and do business.

"We are working incredibly hard to attract investment to the borough so that we can develop new industries that will provide employment for local people for years to come.

"Competition for that investment is stronger than ever in this economic climate, so it is essential that South Tyneside has a brand that raises its regional, national and international profile in relation to tourism and economic regeneration."