LIVERPOOL-based developers Neptune, who transformed a lacklustre New Brighton into a major success story, have been tasked with boosting the fortunes of Birkenhead.

After talks with landowners – including the Mars Pension Fund, which owns the Grange and Pyramids precincts and House of Fraser – Neptune will draw up a master plan for a multi-million regeneration scheme for the town centre.

A key element will be Birkenhead market, which council chiefs acknowledge is failing to fulfill its potential.

Kevin Adderley, Wirral Council’s strategic director for regeneration, said: "We want to see how we can improve the offer in Birkenhead and improve the market, which was one of the founding forces of retail there.

"It's fair to say Birkenhead has not been trading particularly well, but the real puzzle is it does have a great footfall. It's got people going there but they aren’t spending a lot of money.

"We are the ninth largest metropolitan district in the country and if we ask ourselves 'do we have the ninth best retail centre?' The answer is no."

He added: "Look at New Brighton. People said it wouldn't happen and people will say that about Birkenhead – but it will."

The Neptune masterplan will cover land owned by the council and others from Price Street, along Europa Boulevard, the bus station and across the market.

Rob Mason from Neptune said they would also be talking to the Mars Pension Fund to "gauge their aspirations" for the town centre.

He said Neptune had been selected in part for their current relationship with Birkenhead Market.

He added: "This takes in all the retail areas and council owned sites. We see it as crucial to get the market reinvigorated, and that may mean re-modelling it in some way, yet to be determined."

Part of Neptune’s town centre challenge will be to look at how the market and shops will be serviced by delivery lorries, which currently cross the busy bus station in the heart of the town.

Mr Adderley said: "I do not believe the market fulfils its potential. I do believe there are opportunities for a new market to be at the heart of an improved offer in Birkenhead."

He added: "The market as it is, is too big but whatever we do we have to be clear we want the market – and we want the new market built before the old one is closed."