Two new Tube stations are coming to Vauxhall and Battersea, plugging the 450-acre Nine Elms regeneration zone (the biggest in London) into the Underground network for the first time. Homebuyers who commit to the area early in its transformation could reap big rewards in the future.
With regeneration forecast to bring 25,000 jobs and 16,000 new homes, the new public transport link is a vital piece of infrastructure, helping to open up a central riverside neighbourhood blighted by industrial uses for 60 years.
Planning permission has been given for an extension of the Northern line from Kennington and the stations could be open by 2015. Consultation over the exact location of the stations is under way.
One station is earmarked for a Sainsbury's car park at the junction of Wandsworth Road and Wilcox Road, while the other will be alongside Battersea Power Station.
A Northern line interchange at Vauxhall station, which is on the Victoria line, is being considered, too, while the longer-term objective is to extend the Northern line to Clapham Junction. The £600 million-£800 million link, in travel Zone 2, will be privately funded by developers and landowners.
Ironically, one of London's first overland train stations opened at Nine Elms in 1838, but closed 10 years later when the line was extended to a new terminus at Waterloo. The redundant station become a locomotive depot. Victorian railway entrepreneurs never extended the Tube to Battersea because the river got in the way.
The much-needed Northern line link would help unite Battersea's hinterland and the swish riverside apartment complexes built in recent years. A new riverbank promenade will be opened, while a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames will create quicker access to Chelsea. Up-and-coming Vauxhall will get a huge boost and property ripples will be felt in Kennington and Oval as well.
Dominated by the brooding bulk of derelict Battersea Power Station, Nine Elms regeneration has been waiting to happen for at least two decades, but is now well into its stride, with development kick-started by the US government's decision to relocate its embassy from Grosvenor Square in Mayfair.
Riverlight (left) is the first development out of the blocks. It comprises 752 apartments in five slender buildings up to 20 storeys, each to be topped by double-height duplexes, shaped like the prow of a ship. On the outside of each building is a Manhattan-style glass lift.
Each home has at least one balcony with a minimum five square metres of outside space, while interiors are larger than average, a response to Boris Johnson's new space standards. The first phase will be launched next spring. To register, call St James on 020 8332 9690.
Architect Rafael Vinoly's masterplan for the listed power station and 38 acres of surrounding land was approved last August. This envisages five distinct zones, with 3,400 new homes, 3.2 million sq ft of office, retail and leisure space plus a new riverside park. Funding is still to be secured, but developer Real Estate Opportunities expects to commence construction next year.
Other projects in the pipeline include Embassy Gardens, a mixed-use scheme with 1,994 homes next to the US embassy complex; Nine Elms Parkside - 2,000 homes on a 13-acre former Royal Mail depot; and The Garden - 2,300 homes, part of a revamped retail and wholesale "food hub" for New Covent Garden Market.
Four giant gas holders are being decommissioned by National Grid and replaced with 800 new homes, shops and restaurants. In 10 years' time it should look a very different place, a sparkling riverside district barely a mile from the Palace of Westminster and Sloane Square.
"For a part of London so near the centre, it is crazy how inaccessible the area is," says a local resident and blogger, commenting on the Northern line extension. "If I had to be critical, I'd say that the route is not ambitious enough." For many decades, Vauxhall has been less enticing than its riverside location might suggest. But its time has come.
St George Wharf, a cliff of riverside blocks, is the dominant presence (resales from £380,000). The Tower, a 50-storey circular skyscraper going up alongside, is targeting buyers with bigger budgets. Its 223 private flats are priced from £720,000. Call 020 7042 7700 for details.
Plans for two more skyscrapers next to the MI6 headquarters at traffic-clogged Vauxhall Cross have been unveiled too, though a proposed "skywalk", or raised walkway, has been ditched in favour of a street-level scheme to improve the public realm around the distinctive ski jump-shaped bus station.
Avant-garde artist Jo David has snapped up a 15,000sq ft premises for £3 million near the Oval cricket ground for use as a studio/gallery and home, a sure sign of the area's changing character.
"We received a number of bids from niche and blue-chip housebuilders, but none came close to those for so-called alternative uses, from a theatre company, television producer and classic car showroom," according to Verve, a developer of "creative space", which is marketing a 35,000sq ft former mint building on Vauxhall Road (offers over £5 million).
Vauxhall's big claim to fame is its location as a "gateway" to central London, which has made it more of a place to pass through than a neighbourhood to reside in. By travel Zone 1 standards, property in the area is cheap, which has attracted younger buyers and politicians who want a Division Bell address.
But families live in Vauxhall, too, as there are pockets of relatively affordable period housing. Bonnington Square has a close-knit community, with garden square and two cafés. Houses cost from about £800,000.
The new Nine Elms station will bring a decent but slightly disconnected neighbourhood either side of Wandsworth Road into the fold. This Space, a former Sixties college which has been redeveloped into 173 apartments, is a popular new development. Resales from £250,000.
Oval struggles to have an identity beyond the famous cricket ground, still ringed by run-down pre-war tenement blocks. The patch around Vauxhall Street is remarkably shabby for such a close-in area. Lambeth Walk's Victorian streetscape was marred by redevelopment in the Seventies, but parts of it are being restored.
Small businesses and galleries are moving into refurbished former retail premises and over-the-shop accommodation is becoming available. Meanwhile a former Victorian pub on Stannary Street has been transformed into a spectacular five-bedroom home. Price £2.25 million. Call estate agent Domus Nova on 020 7727 1717.