Proposals for prestigious London address highlight empty homes crisis
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More than 300 homes could be created on a derelict site on one of London’s most prestigious streets, leading architects suggest.

The plans were drawn up at the request of the Guardian newspaper by several architecture firms including this year’s Stirling prize winners, Mae. They coincide with the publication of a report by the Local Government Association and the Empty Homes Network that suggests there are now more than one million unoccupied properties in England.

The three-hectare (7.4 acre) site, on The Bishops Avenue in north London, fell into disrepair in the 1990s, when nine Saudi-owned mansions were abandoned. Three of these have since been reduced to rubble, while a fourth suffered extensive fire damage earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the local council (the London borough of Barnet) has seen its housing waiting list more than triple to 3,000 households in the past decade.

Across England there are also thought to be 1.2m households waiting for social housing, with a record 104,000 families living in bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation at a cost to councils of around £1.7bn per year.

Ross Houston, Barnet’s cabinet member for homes and regeneration, told the Guardian that new rules were required to change the situation: “There are genuine issues about whether local authorities should be given more compulsory purchase powers as part of making sure areas do not become blighted by lack of development,” he said. “In Bishop’s Avenue … a lot of the sites are owned by companies that may well be registered in the Cayman Islands or wherever else and it’s quite hard to keep track of.”

Mr Houston added that developers had also seen their profits squeezed by rising costs meaning they felt they could subsidise fewer affordable housing.

The Guardian approached the architects to hear how they would bring affordable housing to the derelict site. Their plans included the creation of around 300 homes, plus an arts centre and landscaped gardens. However, these proposals are almost certain to remain on the drawing board unless regulations change.

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