With runners about to burst on to the streets for the London Marathon (25 April 2010), Greenwich will receive its annual blast of publicity. It will be a taste of things to come in 2012 when the Olympics throws the spotlight on to this gracious old naval town.
The throng of marathon runners sets off from its sweeping grassy parkland, an area that is set to be used for the equestrian events, against the spectacular backdrop of magnificent Wren architecture, the wide, winding River Thames and the gleaming skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.
Missing piece of jigsaw
The millennium celebrations a decade ago created a flurry of construction activity, and the Olympics is doing the same with the building of hundreds of new homes along a neglected riverside strip between the town centre and Greenwich Peninsula, rejuvenated by the O2 Arena.
This largely industrial land is regarded as the missing piece of the regeneration jigsaw.
For years, the so-called Thames Path has been inaccessible because of depots and disused wharves. However, a 12-acre waterfront estate is under way and the first phase of 650 riverview flats is for sale.
Called Lovell's Wharf, the development sits on a prominent bend of the river where, at night, the bright-green laser marking the Meridian line from the Royal Observatory cuts through the site.
The location has the feel of Docklands during the 1980s development boom — slightly raw but offering excitement and promise to early-bird buyers.
Architecture is restrained — in fact, refreshingly "un-iconic" — with some "added-value" extras in terms of space and interior design. They are bigger than average with full-height glazing, and some apartments have two balconies to maximise the sweeping views.
Underfloor heating frees up wall space, white kitchens and bathrooms are crisp and streamlined, while timber floors are laid throughout. Apartments are also pre-cabled and have reinforced walls for plasma televisions.
Prices start at £280,000 and rise to £835,000 for a three-bedroom penthouse. This equates to about £550 a square foot, a bit lower than prime Canary Wharf properties across the river. Underground parking spaces cost £15,000 each. Call King Sturge on 020 8090 0276.
Developer London & Regional Properties is a "mixed-use" specialist rather than a house-building company and is incorporating commercial space — cafés, restaurants and shops as well health and leisure outlets. A new pier for river taxis is being discussed, too. The site adjoins Ballast Quay, with its handsome listed Harbour Master's Office. Greenwich town centre and the park are less than a 10-minute walk away.
Greenwich Peninsula, which has a Jubilee line station, is a little further in the opposite direction. It is part of the £5 billion regeneration zone around the 02 Arena. Bellway is building 229 homes due for completion in spring 2011. Prices from £249,000. Call 020 8853 2585.
When approached by road, the peninsula looks uninviting and isolated because of the still-visible industrial legacy of gasworks and the busy Blackwall Tunnel approach.
These eyesores will take some years to be eliminated but Trafalgar Road, the main vehicle route out of Greenwich, is smartening up.
Galleries, gastropubs and delis are opening, while the former Greenwich District Hospital is to be redeveloped into Heart of East Greenwich — an ecofriendly scheme with 600 homes. To register, call First Base on 020 7851 5555.
For many decades, an Edwardian pedestrian tunnel was the only quick route between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs, which is now dominated by Canary Wharf.
Only when the DLR arrived in the 1990s, followed by the Jubilee line extension, did house-hunting bankers target Greenwich, snapping up elegant Georgian homes bordering the park.
"Greenwich is playing price catch-up with Canary Wharf but in my opinion it's a much better place to live, more family-friendly, with better amenities and yet it is only a short hop on the train to the towers," says estate agent John Payne, which is selling flats at Wood Wharf, a riverfront scheme moments from the Cutty Sark.
The old wharf closed in the 1980s and then became a recording studio where Dire Straits, Boy George and Madness rehearsed. Now it is a block of 48 flats. A duplex penthouse is priced at £705,000. Call 020 8858 9911.
A development corridor has opened up to the west of the town centre along Greenwich High Road, which runs into Deptford. This patch is worth exploring. Pretty Victorian terrace houses in a conservation area cost from about £500,000. One on Brand Street is for sale at £549,950. Call King Sturge on 020 8858 9986.
New Capital Quay is being built in a dock basin so deep a cruise liner terminal was once earmarked there. When complete in 2013, the development will have 636 flats across 11 blocks, one a "peninsula building" rising to 15 storeys. Call Galliard Homes on 020 7620 1500.
Riverfront properties are the best at holding value, according to research by estate agent Cluttons. Flats with a view of the Thames have lost only four per cent of their value since the credit crunch hit two years ago. This compares with a Londonwide drop of 13 per cent.
"Riverside homes have a magical quality, and there's a migration of people back to London from the suburbs looking for this type of property," says James Hyman of Cluttons.