When Lots Road in Chelsea had a working power station, its voracious fires were fed by coal brought by barge along the Thames and then ferried along one of its little-known tributaries: Chelsea Creek.
The power station is long defunct and the creek today is a dismal sight, overrun with weed and unused for about two decades. Over the next five years, however, the waterway is going to be reborn, along with the land around it, as a development described as a "mini Venice", with most properties overlooking its new canalways.
'The flats are phenomenal value for money for first-time buyers in one of London's prime postcodes'
What's more, first-time buyers keen to get a foothold on some prime real estate, just five minutes from the King's Road, can do so for a rather tiny £186,000. True, the property they can get for that price is also pretty tiny, but what Chelsea Creek, a sister development to the unfeasibly glitzy Imperial Wharf, lacks in size it makes up for in location. And homeowners can use the Imperial Wharf station, about a 30-second walk away, and new 10-acre park.
St George has launched some 70 affordable homes at Dalton House, one of the first phases of Chelsea Creek. They are being sold off-plan, and will be completed in 2012. The smallest unit is a £186,000 studio, which measures around 300sq ft.
Alternatively first-time buyers, who must either live or work within the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and earn no more than £60,000 to qualify, could opt for a one-bedroom flat at £212,000 and just shy of 450sq ft. Private buyers can opt for a larger one-bedroom flat, priced at about £500,000. If they have £5 million to £6 million hanging around, they could opt for a penthouse with river views.
Work on Chelsea Creek is swinging into action now because the monster Imperial Wharf scheme, started a decade ago, is all but complete. Just one studio flat remains of the 1,500 homes built on the site which is one of the big development success stories of the early 21st century. Ross Faragher, managing director of St George, says: "Chelsea Creek is not by the River Thames like Imperial Wharf, but it is closer to the King's Road and it will have a character of its own. We are going to dredge the creek and rebuild the lock to make it navigable again, and there will be moorings where people will be able to keep small boats. In later phases we will build new canals with homes next to the water - it is going to be like a mini Venice."
Faragher agrees the affordable flats are "relatively small", but says they are "phenomenal value for money" for a first-time buyer looking for a crash pad in one of the most desirable swathes of London. And, as Savills estate agents predict prime postcodes will recover first from the downturn, they also represent probably the safest bricks-and mortar investment a first-time buyer will be able to find for below the stamp duty threshold.
How council taxpayers stand to benefit
The properties are being sold in a different way to conventional shared ownership schemes. The first-time buyer's investment will purchase 70 per cent of the property but they will not need to pay rent for the remainder. However, when they sell they will have to give preference to people on Hammersmith and Fulham council's waiting list. If there are no takers for their property, they can sell it on the open market, but either way 30 per cent of the profit goes to the council when they move on. Ultimately there will be around 900 homes on Chelsea Creek, completed by around 2015.
The architect of Dalton House is the leading practice Broadway Malyan, and the architects drawing up the masterplan are Squire and Partners. The firm is currently also drawing up plans to redevelop Chelsea Barracks. Visit chelseacreek.co.uk
'I will be paying less than I do in rent'
Later this month, Jeanine Maninger will move into her first flat - and not just any flat but an apartment at Imperial Wharf.
The 31-year-old is not some cash-happy hedge fund manager but a first-time buyer who struggled to find a property she liked and could afford on the open market. But at Imperial Wharf she will be paying less for her new home each month than she is currently paying to rent a flat in West Kensington with a friend. This is because she has taken advantage of the first-time buyers scheme run by Hammersmith and Fulham council and developer St George.
"I have bought 70 per cent of the property," she explains. This means that while the flat would have cost £320,000 to buy outright, Jeanine paid £209,000 for it. Unlike other shared-ownership schemes, she does not need to pay rent for the 30 per cent share she does not own, but when she comes to sell, 30 per cent of the proceeds will revert to the council.
A slight downside is that Jeanine, a marketing manager, bought off-plan in January last year, and despite house price growth at the start of 2010 it is doubtful she has seen much price uplift in the past 12 months.
But Jeanine is not concerning herself with capital growth at present. "I am not even thinking about that. I just want to get on and live there," she says. "I felt it was a really good deal - the apartments are amazing and all my friends are in west London. And I will actually be paying less per month than I have been renting with my friend."