Heaps Rice Mill: Liverpool Council ‘Consider Action’ Against Famous Site Owner As Future Unclear
Plans to transform Liverpool’s famed Heaps Rice Mill have stalled, with city council now considering taking action against the site’s notorious owner, BusinessLive can reveal.
London-based Quarryman Investments took full ownership of the site in 2020 and earlier this year missed a deadline set by the board to begin work.
The plant, which has been twice owned and sold by the Elliot Group, remains abandoned – and its current owner, Anthony Maxwell-Jones, said the delays were due to funding problems resulting directly from the pandemic.
He called it a “fantastic” site – and said he will work with the council to “collectively do the right thing”.
The Grade II listed building on the edge of the Baltic Triangle has been empty since 2005 – and has had a building permit to be converted into apartments since 2014.
Previously used by Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd – which once ground rice for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies – this is one of the first and last warehouse complexes in the area and it is hoped that it will be partly restored and reused as residential units.
In 2015, it was sold by the Elliot Group to a developer called Inhabit for £ 130million, but no construction work followed.
Concerns were subsequently raised about his state of deterioration, with trees growing off upper levels due to long term neglect.
Just three years after the sale, in a joint venture with Mr Maxwell-Jones’ investment firm Valorem, the Elliot Group bought it out, raising hopes that work on the “ One Park Lane ” site, which had a gross development value of £ 170million. , could start soon.
At the time, the development was to include four new blocks plus the listed Heaps Rice Mill, based around a new public plaza surrounded by 781 apartments and 12,000 square feet of restaurants and shops on the ground floor.
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The Elliot Group mentionned he wanted to start work by the end of that year, and this building permit remained in effect after the work began by Inhabit.
However, work could not restart and in January of last year Mr Maxwell-Jones and his company Quarryman Investments (Holdings) Ltd took full ownership of the site.
The buyout came just weeks after Elliot Lawless was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud, bribe and corruption in December 2019. He denies any wrongdoing and has successfully challenged the legality of warrants used by police to search their home and offices.
Contacted by BusinessLive, the Elliot Group declined to comment.
The grounds of Heaps Rice Mill are currently used as a parking lot.
Quarryman said he has since received permission from council to modify the original request, with plans now in place to include 600 residential units and a 260-room hotel.
According to Maxwell-Jones, he would like “nothing more” than to start working at the plant, but he said various funding agreements that were previously in place have been scrapped.
According to Liverpool City Cllr Sarah Doyle, the local authority’s planning department has had discussions with the London-based company “during the better part of the year”.
She told BusinessLive: “I would like to see immediate work on the site to prevent any damage to the building.
“I would also like to see a part of the site dedicated to a community space for the local people of the Baltic region, the waterfront and the L1 area to use.
“Beyond that, I think the site will probably end up becoming apartments and it would be welcome to see developers adopt really affordable rent in the apartments they rent.”
According to Riverside Ward Cllr Doyle, authorities believed “essential repair work” should have been carried out at the plant in March of this year.
The work would have meant that the building permit and classified building authorization would remain valid for the conversion of the classified Heaps rice mill – and the construction of new residential blocks.
However, last month, the New Owners Planning Officer told council work would not be done due to Covid delays and funding withdrawal.
Cllr Doyle, who has just been appointed a new member of the cabinet for development and the economy, added: “Following this update, the council made the owners aware of our disappointment that the work is not starting any more, ensuring the long-term preservation of the listed monument.
“In addition, we have informed the owners that as a result we will once again have to examine / consider the possibility of enforcement action.”
Tom Houghton is the North West Business publisher for BusinessLive and Reach plc.
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In addition to granting building permits, councils have the power to take action against violations. It is not known what action the city council is considering.
She said that while the delay in the work is “regrettable”, the owners employ a structural engineering company to monitor the condition of the listed building.
She added: “We have been informed that the structural condition remains similar to previous assessments.”
Speaking to BusinessLive, Mr. Maxwell-Jones said, “I would love nothing more than to start work on the plant and restore it and the larger development. It has the potential to be a fantastic project.
“We had a development finance agreement with an institution that would have started all of the construction. Then, when Covid struck, the institution was shut down. They couldn’t fund anything and it remains closed.
He said his company then tried to find funding over the next 18 months and moved closer to the offers, which were later withdrawn by the investment committees.
Mr Maxwell-Jones said: “It was not possible to approve funding for hotels during a foreclosure.
“There has been no hotel in the UK that has been funded during Covid.
So it is very difficult and without it it is also very difficult to raise funds for the regeneration of the plant, because it is the catalyst for development.
He said a separate private equity fund was to be finalized when purchasing the residential area surrounding the plant – but that failed in December of last year.
Obtaining bank financing has also been “impossible” due to the pandemic, he said.
He added: “It all comes down to the finance market, which is fundamentally blocked because of Covid.
“My shareholders and I have invested a lot of money in the site, so I would like nothing more than to start and continue development.
“I appreciate that Liverpool [council] must protect the factory and do the right thing. But I can only do what I can.
Mr Maxwell-Jones was unable to set a date when work could begin, but said: ‘I hope the market returns over the summer as the vaccine rollout progresses and the Lockouts are mitigated, this will give confidence to the market to finance the Hotel.
“It’s just very difficult. While legally you can’t travel or stay in a hotel, it’s next to impossible to get someone to write a big check for a hotel development. “