The Bishops Avenue: architects' plans for hundreds of affordable homes on Billionaires' Row revealed

The proposals show how hundreds of affordable homes and an arts centre could sit among the multi-millionaire's properties and crumbling mega mansions of the Bishops Avenue
Stirling Prize winner Mae imagined this community-focused rework of a site currently dominated by abandoned mansions
Mae / ARKA Works
Greg Pitcher28 November 2023

Plans for hundreds of affordable homes on London's Billionaire's Row, where celebrities and the super rich have long lived among abandoned mega mansions, have been drawn up by big-name architects to show how an available plot on the leafy north London street could be used.

The site on Bishops Avenue in north London currently holds nine derelict mansions, thought to have been bought by the Saudi royal family in the Nineties. The properties were subsequently sold on but have remained unused.

A luxury housing scheme featuring 65 flats was last year approved for part of the plot, replacing a large dwelling on the site of the since-demolished home of 1930s actress Gracie Fields. A £1.5m payment was accepted by Barnet Council in lieu of on-site affordable units.

Planning documents show that 30 flats were approved for neighbouring 54 The Bishops Avenue in 2020 along with 109 apartments at number 56 a year later.

Leafy: RCKa proposals for plot on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead

Speculative plans for affordable housing on the three-hectare site have since been drawn up by Stirling Prize-winning practice Mae and social value specialists RCKa in separate proposals.

Homes on The Bishops Avenue sell for multi-million pound sums, often in a derelict state, while mansions, such as the 2022/23 Apprentice house can rent for almost £1 million a year.

The street also has a long reputation for housing the super rich and often famous.

Residents have included Prince William's godfather, King of Greece Constantine II; pop megastar Justin Bieber, who rented a 15-bedroom, £25,000-a-week super mansion; and actress Salma Hayek and her husband, the French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault.

Asked to consider the potential of a site on the road, where the average sale price of a home is £8.5 million, Mae has drawn up a striking glass-enveloped arts centre surrounded by four-storey buildings containing a mix of one to three-bedroom affordable apartments.

Homes on the Bishops Avenue
Daniel Lynch

Meanwhile RCKa imagined 300 properties, including flats and houses, many for social rent.

Director Russell Curtis told Homes & Property the speculative scheme should be "straightforward" to get through planning.

Although they may face neighbour objection, the proposals would create amenities for the local community, Curtis said.

"We would look to include open space, a new park, other facilities and ultimately house more than 1,000 people.

"We think it is reasonable. But with land values and construction costs, it would never stack up. You could sell these homes on the market but not provide them as affordable."

Curtis called for a wealth tax to incentivise owners to sell unused properties and keep them in use.

It has been estimated that a third of the mansions on Bishops Avenue are vacant, with over a dozen more used only periodically. The combined value of the empty homes on the street has been calculated as £350 million.

Analysis of government data by campaign group Action on Empty Homes this month found more than 36,000 properties in the capital were registered as long-term vacant, with 1,905 of them in Barnet.

Director Rebecca Moore said: "A new national empty homes programme is long overdue. The government needs to step up to the plate and offer funding and incentives to get these homes back into use.”