£100m Aura scheme to resume after High Court deal

Elliot Group’s £100m student residential development in Liverpool was placed into administration earlier this year and now a consortium of its original investors will complete it. Tony McDonough reports

Aura Hotel
Elliot Group was the original developer on the £100m Aura scheme

 

A deal to allow the stalled £100m Aura student residential development in Liverpool has been agreed following the approval of the High Court.

Originally started by developer Elliot Group, the project, close to Liverpool ’s Knowledge Quarter, will now be taken forward by a consortium of the project original investors. They will purchase the site from the administrator David Rubin & Partners.

It will retain Liverpool-based Vermont as the main contractor on the scheme. Vermont will shortly resume work on the 1,007-unit development with the initial phase due to open in September 2021.

Aura was one of two Liverpool Elliot Group schemes placed into administration earlier this year. Investor confidence was rocked when Elliot Group founder Mr Lawless was arrested as part of an ongoing fraud investigation.

He was arrested by Merseyside Police on December 18, 2019, following a raid on his city centre home. Nick Kavanagh, director of regeneration and employment at Liverpool City Council, was arrested on the same day as part of the same investigation.

Both men were later released on conditional bail. No charges have been brought and the investigation remains live. In March a court refused an application by Merseyside Police for the bail to be extended.

And, in late April, the High Court ruled that the raid on Mr Lawless’s home, during which £300,000 cash was seized, was unlawful and ordered that the search warrants be quashed. Mr Lawless has always maintained his innocence.

The latest deal was made possible by Elliot Group founder, Elliot Lawless, working with the joint administrators in facilitating the transfer of the freehold interest in the site to the consortium. He also directly authorised the sale of a neighbouring piece of land held by Elliot Group.

Mr Lawless said: “My proposal protected investors’ interests and ensured they would suffer no loss but we still needed the court’s approval. We’ve also agreed a deal that will see the investors’ chosen contractor use some of our other land to make construction easier.”

Anna Doeff, whose company Mewstone Ridges was Elliot Group’s, single largest investor in Aura and who is a member of the investor consortium, added: “This has always been a very high-quality scheme in a prime location. Elliot Lawless is due a great deal of credit for the way he has sought to protect our interests.”

Mr Lawless says he is confident within the next two weeks of securing a successful outcome to discussions with investors in The Residence in Salford, after which his focus will turn to securing the completion of the £250m Infinity project in Liverpool.

“My aim is to protect investors’ monies as much as possible and, once that is achieved, return to winning ways. I have a number of significant sites and opportunities before me and it will be good to bring them forward,” he said.

Mark Connor, chief executive of Vermont, also said: “It’s a huge statement that we have been able to put all of the issues behind us and can now press on with Aura – which is a great scheme in a strategically important location for the city.

“This has been a fantastic effort by all involved and enormous credit is due to the investor group and their advisors who, together with David Rubin and Partners, have been extremely pragmatic. In doing so, we have been able to agree a deal that will see the scheme completed as originally intended.”

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