A new Docklands area, around the river bend from Canary Wharf and the size of Venice - with 12 miles of virgin waterfront waiting to be developed - is emerging as the latest residential area in this thriving economic hub.
Royal Docks, only four miles from the City, has been a frontier land for homebuyers but is attracting accelerating interest on the back of the 2012 Olympics.
After several false regeneration dawns, a fresh masterplan, approved by Boris Johnson, seeks to turn the district into a first-rate address - what the Mayor calls a "stunning waterside cityscape". This is one for home buyers with faith in, and an eye for, the future prospects to the east.
The aim is to revitalise vast tracts of neglected waterfront, exploiting the already improved infrastructure. House prices are about 30 per cent cheaper than in neighbouring Canary Wharf, so it has good growth potential.
Waterside Park, a 780-home Barratt development by the Thames Barrier, has been given the green light. Launching early next year, it will be the biggest residential scheme in London since the onset of the credit crunch in 2007.
The area's major landowner is the London Development Agency, part of the Mayor's office, which wants to establish a green enterprise zone and attract homebuyers by using high-quality urban design relating to Docklands' mercantile past. About 6,000 jobs are expected to be created by 2014.
Already an embryonic town centre is forming around the ExCeL exhibition centre, where apartment blocks and hotels have been built.
Nearby London City Airport, far from being an environmental negative, is seen as a plus for the area. The airport serves 30 UK and European destinations and has a London-New York link, making it especially convenient for Canary Wharf business travellers. The use of smaller aircraft and a ban on night flights reduces noise nuisance for local residents. About a million passengers a year pass through the airport, which is plugged into the Docklands Light Railway network.
Taking a trip on the DLR is the best way to acquaint yourself with this district. With its big skies and awesome post-industrial waterfront, 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. Today the docks are used for water sports and recreation (and will be a key venue in the 2012 Olympics) while quayside restaurants and bars have opened alongside a sprinkling of apartment blocks built in the Nineties.
At Peruvian Wharf, a 20-acre site formerly owned by Tate & Lyle, redevelopment plans envisage 1,470 homes, offices and a hotel all integrated with a working aggregates wharf, cement import facility and passenger pier. It will be the first time a commercial wharf has returned to the docks area since the Sixties.
Next door Minoco Wharf, formerly a lubricants plant owned by Shell, is earmarked as another substantial mixed-use scheme, while the 5,000-home Silvertown Quays project, currently on the back burner, involves conversion of listed Millennium Mills, a splendid art deco structure once owned by Spillers, and the Biota Aquarium designed by architect Sir Terry Farrell.
University of East London has a campus here, and a new School of Architecture and the Visual Arts.
The tides are turning
After shipping ceased here in 1981, Royal Docks remained a rough, working-class area known for its boxing clubs and pearly kings and queens. But the demographics have changed and the area attracts white-collar employees priced out of Canary Wharf.
The main residential developments are Britannia Village, Western Beach, Capital East, Eastern Quay, Barrier Point, Tradewinds and Galleons Lock. Resales start at £160,000 and rise to about £800,000 for the best penthouses. Handsome warehouses are in short supply because the riverbank used to be dominated by processing plants and freight depots.
Royal Quay, a marina at Albert Basin, aims to bring convivial waterfront living as at St Katharine's Dock, Wapping. More than 400 flats are being built alongside a listed Victorian hotel converted into a bar, restaurant, office suites, business centre and spa.
Brightly coloured apartment blocks with sweeping, curved façades inspired by ocean liner design project out over the new yacht basin. Prices start at £200,000 for one-bedroom flats. Call 020 7055 0141. An international-standard regatta centre has opened nearby.
Waterside Park will have apartments overlooking gardens as well as the Thames, and there will be a concierge, gym, crèche and play areas to encourage family buyers, still thin on the ground in Docklands. Completion is due in 2013, with off-plan prices from £200,000. Call 0845 871 9994. Reuse content