Never before has London riverside living been so alluring. Since the closure of the old docks in the early Seventies, the once-polluted Thames and the industrial land hugging it have undergone a remarkable transformation, with regeneration bringing fabulous new waterfront apartments and amenities.
A raft of pre-2012 Olympics initiatives aims to make the riverfront an even more enjoyable place to live, work and play — and to exploit the Thames's potential as a transport artery.
New piers, promenades, parks, pontoons and moorings are being created. Perhaps the most spectacular project is a cable car (called Emirates Air Line) across the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks, forecast to carry up to 2,500 people an hour — or two million passengers a year.
The five-minute crossing will provide a direct link between the O2, Europe's biggest entertainment venue, and ExCeL, the UK's largest exhibition space, and will be plugged into the transport network, with two new stations featuring on London's iconic Tube map. The £36 million project is on track to open next summer.
Boris Johnson calls it an "exciting and innovative mode of transport that will offer awesome vistas and be another regeneration catalyst for east London".
Set around the river bend from Canary Wharf for decades, Royal Docks has been one of London's great regeneration opportunities — a giant tract of land with 12 miles of waterfront waiting to be transformed into a brand-new district, only four miles from the City.
Recently, the area was designated an enterprise zone, aimed at boosting business through tax breaks. By 2017 Royal Docks will also have a Crossrail station, providing a direct link to Heathrow.
When built more than 100 years ago, the three Royal Docks (Albert, Victoria and George V) formed the largest enclosed docks in the world. Today, they 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.
With the Olympics throwing international glare on the area, developers are trying to attract homebuyers by using high-quality urban design that relates to Dockland's mercantile past. Waterside Park, with 777 homes overlooking the river and a 22-acre park, is the first of these new schemes. Prices from £217,000. Call Barratt on 020 7055 1743.
A 30ft-wide floating boardwalk along the north bank of the Thames between Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge is also in the pipeline. Concerns about "navigational safety" have been raised but planners are expected to give the £60 million project the green light this month. The four-acre river park will be linked by eight pavilions and include a lido and a ferry jetty. The first new train station to be built on the South Bank of the river in more than 120 years is yet another enticement for homebuyers to move to the area. Blackfriars South, at Bankside, opens in the spring.
Posh people who previously rejected the area are buying at developments such as NEO Bankside, where apartments are selling for up to £2,000 a square foot, equivalent to parts of Mayfair and Chelsea. Prices start at £1.47 million for a two-bedroom apartment. Call 020 7998 1888.
Would-be buyers have not missed the boat, says Carl Davenport of estate agent Chesterton Humberts. "It's easy to pick out pockets of good value slightly back from the river."
Typical values along the South Bank range between £800 and £1,200 a sq ft, which agents say is good value for such a buzzing riverside neighbourhood close to all the action.
More riverfront residential towers are coming. Berkeley Group has acquired One Blackfriars, which has planning consent for 64 flats and a deluxe hotel, while King's Reach Tower, next to Oxo Tower, is to be demolished and a new skyscraper built by CIT Group.
Nine Elms, between Vauxhall Bridge and Battersea Bridge, is set to become central London's biggest riverside neighbourhood, a 450-acre zone that includes the famous power station and the site of the new US Embassy.
Riverlight is the first development to be launched — 752 apartments in five slender buildings, each topped by double-height duplexes shaped like the prow of a ship. The first phase will be launched in spring, 2012. To register, call St James on 020 8332 9690.
A new river taxi pier at St George Wharf, Vauxhall, has opened (another link in the chain from Putney to Woolwich) while elsewhere along the Thames, run-down boat yards are being upgraded and linked into new housing developments — as at Greenwich Millennium Village and Brentford Lock. Plazas and piazzas with cafés, boutiques and galleries, plus boat moorings, have helped animate what would otherwise be sterile housing estates.
At Imperial Wharf on the Fulham waterfront, a marina with 600 metres of pleasure moorings opened last summer. At Chelsea Creek, two new purpose-built canals cutting in from the Thames will provide a waterside view for 1,000 new homes. Flats are priced from £559,950. Call 020 7610 9693.
Coming soon to Hammersmith Embankment is a 750-home estate, with promenade, a boat club and pontoon. Called Fulham Reach, the site faces listed Harrods Furniture Depository, the former storage warehouse converted into luxury apartments. To register, visit fulhamreach.co.uk
Riverbank regeneration has created a new property niche, according to James Hyman, partner at Cluttons. He said: "It's the most resilient sector of the housing market. Values are holding firm and in some cases we are achieving all-time highs."