Rossendale Council has appointed a team led by BDP's Liverpool studio to carry out a regeneration study of Rawtenstall town centre.
BDP will work alongside GH Regeneration and transport consultants JMP to examine the viability of redeveloping the town centre and produce a masterplan for the market town.
As part of the project, Rossendale is considering the compulsory purchase of the rundown Valley Centre shopping precinct which currently has only one remaining tenant. Former owner CNC Properties was granted planning consent for a new centre in 2008 but then sold the site to Ashbourne Property Fund Managers, which manages funds for syndicates of private Irish investors. The council said it has asked Ashbourne to bring forward development but the fund manager said its clients would wait until an upturn in the market. The council is now considering bringing the centre under public ownership to seek a new development partner for the pivotal site.
Even if a CPO succeeded, paying for subsequent development would be a major challenge: Rawtenstall town centre was on the list of potential projects cancelled by the North West Development Agency in July.
A spokesman for the council said talks were ongoing with partners including the Pennine Lancashire Joint Committee of local authorities in the area to explore alternative funding options.
Tony Swain, leader of Rossendale Council, said: "This is a crucial piece of work for the council and we are looking for creative but practical options for regenerating the town centre in Rawtenstall that take account of the views of local people and the business community. Rawtenstall town centre requires a unique planning solution to make the most of future opportunities to grow and develop."
Andrew Teage, head of BDP's Liverpool studio and the practice's lead town planning consultant for the North, said: "Rawtenstall town centre needs a long-term planning solution which will help to regenerate the town centre, supporting the thriving independent high street shops, improving transport links and attracting new investment into the town.
"Through sensitive interventions and high quality masterplanning, towns like Rawtenstall can be rejuvenated and transformed back into bustling conurbations with a distinct identity and unique offer.
"BDP and our partner consultants will be exploring a range of options for the town that will largely focus on the unpopular Valley Centre, other development opportunities in the town centre and the provision of a new public transport interchange."
The report is due to be completed by December 2010.