Chancellor George Osborne's Budget declaration that east London's Royal Docks is to become Britain's biggest "enterprise zone" has at last thrown the spotlight on the capital's greatest untapped development opportunity.
The Royal Docks offers canals and quays with 12 miles of waterfront, all sandwiched between Canary Wharf and the Olympic Village at Stratford.
Businesses setting up there will now gain generous tax breaks while house builders, who have already spotted the area's potential, can now see the Royal Docks giving even the glamorous apartment blocks of Canary Wharf a rival - though Royal Docks property is currently at least 30 per cent cheaper.
More than 10,000 new homes are in the pipeline as part of an exciting masterplan that will see £22 billion injected into the area. Enterprise zone status will cement piecemeal infrastructure improvements that have taken place over the last 15 years, and Newham council expects 6,000 new jobs to be created by 2014.
By 2017, Royal Docks will have a new Crossrail station at Custom House, plugging it into London's Tube network and providing a direct link to Heathrow. Long before then, a cable car across the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks will carry up to 2,500 passengers an hour and link the O2 music venue with the ExCeL exhibition centre via a spectacular five-minute ride.
London Development Agency, part of the Mayor's office, is establishing a green technology campus (Siemens has started construction on a £30 million Expo research centre).
Attracting homebuyers by using high-quality urban design that relates to Docklands' mercantile past, and by creating waterfront amenities, is another LDA aim. Waterside Park, with 750 homes overlooking the river and a 22-acre park, is the first of these new addresses. Prices from £213,000 (completion in December). Call Barratt on 0845 871 9994.
'It's an area in transition, like Canary Wharf was 15 years ago, and has got to be one of the brightest next places'
With the 2012 Olympics throwing international glare on the area, four show-piece "concept projects" at key sites will show the world what is in store. These include 21st-century pleasure gardens with a floating lido and spa at Pontoon Dock, and a "caravanserai", or adaptable open courtyard space with shops and work studios for creatives, at Canning Town.
For years, Canning Town itself has languished almost outside the property market, blighted by run-down council estates and its close proximity to busy dual carriageways and the Blackwall Tunnel. But huge change is afoot.
Newham council is now spearheading £3.7 billion-worth of regeneration, which includes bulldozing 1,650 local authority homes, revitalising the town centre, providing a new school and other community facilities. Bouygues, a French construction company, is undertaking the first phase of 1,100 new mixed-tenure homes (rented, private and shared-ownership) and 550,000sq ft of commercial space.
Another new scheme, Rathbone Market, will have 650 homes around a market square, retail stores and restaurants.
Muse, the developer, has launched apartments priced from £175,000 to £500,000. Call 020 7758 8481. Notting Hill Housing association will be releasing 103 shared-ownership homes at a later date.
Drive along there now and you can see why lots of people wouldn't touch it with a bargepole," says Andrew Palmer of property consultant DTZ. "But it's an area in transition, like Canary Wharf was 15 years ago, and has got to be one of the brightest next places. Transport wise, it's one of the most under-used resources in London - on the Jubilee line, with a fully fledged DLR and a whacking great bus station." Taking a trip on the DLR is the best way to see the 125-hectare enterprise zone around Royal Docks. It is only four miles from the City and with its big skies and post-industrial waterfront (loved by artists), there is a sense of drama about the landscape.
"When built more than 100 years ago, the three Royal Docks (Albert, Victoria and George V) formed the largest enclosed docks in the world.
Even after shipping stopped in the Seventies, it remained the sort of place outsiders call "close-knit" - a rough, inward-looking, working-class district. But the population is changing as white-collar employees priced out of Canary Wharf move there.
Freelance management consultant Jennifer Rowe, 36, paid £315,000 for a two-bedroom dockside apartment three years ago, in the depths of the banking crisis.
"I was renting near Canary Wharf and wanted to buy into an area with investment potential. It seemed a good opportunity for someone like me who was prepared to sit it out and wait for the area to improve. At the time, people were losing their jobs and keen to sell up so I got a good deal. There have been a few false regeneration dawns but I think the new enterprise zone will be a proper catalyst."
Today the docks are used for water sports and boast an international standard regatta centre, while quayside restaurants and bars have opened alongside the sprinkling of hotels and apartment blocks.
Nearby London City airport is seen as a plus for the area, serving 30 UK and European destinations and with a London-New York link that makes it especially convenient for Canary Wharf business travellers. The use of smaller aircraft and a ban on night flights reduces noise nuisance for residents.
Silvertree, an eco-skyscraper with 161 apartments alongside Royal Victoria Dock, will be ready at the end of next year. Described by architects Studio RHE as "a supercool post-crunch design", the tower is wrapped with curved aluminium solar bands and makes use of ground-source heat pumps to generate low-cost electricity. Prices from £250,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5220.
Royal Quay, a 400-home marina at Albert Basin, has flats from £200,000. Call Country & Metropolitan Homes on 020 7055 0141. Capital East, Tradewinds and Barrier Point are the pick of the older developments, according to estate agent Franklyn James. Resales start at £170,000 and rise to about £800,000 for the best penthouses.