More people are living alongside the central stretch of the Thames in London — from Wandsworth to Woolwich — than at any time in the capital’s history.
The demand for riverside homes is so great that thousands of new properties are in the planning pipeline, particularly on the south side of the Thames.
The Thames Clipper, the river’s main commuter boat operator, has seen passenger numbers jump from single figures to 7,500 a day since the service began in 1999.
And research shows that two-thirds of buyers are moving from central London properties down to the river as an alternative to moving out of the capital altogether, showing yet again how powerful is the urge to avoid commuting in.
As the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race gets under way from Putney Bridge on Saturday, thousands more city dwellers will be reminded once again how attractive the waterfront has become.
From Kew in the west to Docklands in the east, riverside apartments are attracting attention as vast tracts of industrial land are freed for development. New schemes are eye-catching and less “block built” than in the past, more solid and deploying a more imaginative range of materials.
There are also price brackets to suit most buyers, the lowest being east of Canary Wharf, where flats sell for less than £300,000, with the top-price homes found to the south-west at Kingston. And as the apartments go up the investors come in with their gyms, bars and restaurants, boutiques and galleries, all contributing to a more appealing environment.
Developments being launched this Easter offer the widest choice of riverside homes available for more than a decade, and include apartments overlooking the Putney to Mortlake stretch of the Thames where Saturday’s thrilling race will be held.
Extra residential moorings and river taxi piers are being created, and Olympics-related initiatives, such as the London Pleasure Gardens in Royal Docks, aim to exploit the river’s potential as a recreational resource.
Nine Elms, a district larger than Hyde Park, is getting 16,000 new homes on former industrial land between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge.
Riverside skyscrapers are being built at Albert Embankment (Telford Homes) and at Blackfriars (Berkeley Homes). Lots Road power station, next to Chelsea Harbour, will soon be an upmarket residential and retail estate.
Riverbank regeneration has created a new property niche, according to Matthew Smith of estate agent Knight Frank, which has set up a riverside division in response to burgeoning demand. “It’s a very resilient sector of the housing market and prices continue to rise steadily,” he says.
The firm covers more than 50 developments between Putney and Tower Bridge and says prices span between £850 and £2,000 a square foot. Albion Riverside and Riverside One on the Battersea waterfront have been the most popular developments during the past 12 months, with prices jumping by up to 20 per cent.
A price gap is opening between older schemes and new ones, but location still drives price. Benbow House, a decade-old scheme next to Tate Modern in Southwark, has a waiting list of buyers. About £850,000 is the entry price for a two-bedroom apartment.
Knight Frank’s research shows that two thirds of riverside buyers already live in London (rather than being “international” or second-home purchasers), and most work in the finance, law or entertainment industries.
Fulham Reach is the biggest of the Easter launches, a 744-home scheme between Putney Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge. Lozenge-shaped apartment blocks with expanses of glass and big balconies face the splendid Harrods Furniture Depository, the listed former storage warehouse on the south side.
It is a tranquil setting. Developer St George has upgraded the riverside walkway, called Hammersmith Embankment, and a new park and community boat club and jetty are part of the scheme. Residents will have exclusive use of a spa, screening room and wine cellar, as well as a 24-hour concierge. The acclaimed Riverside Café is one of the local amenities. Prices from £749,950. Call 020 7870 9500.
River taxis are another bonus of waterside living. Currently, services operate along three sections of the Thames: Putney to Westminster via Chelsea Harbour; Embankment to Tower Bridge via Blackfriars, and Docklands to Woolwich via Greenwich.
Mayor Boris Johnson is keen to extend river transport and integrate piers with new mixed-use developments. A new pier has opened at St George Wharf, Vauxhall, and another is to be built at Plantation Wharf, Wandsworth, with nine residential moorings and 44 apartments. Call Cube Real Estate on 0845 262 5544.
Wandsworth’s waterfront, especially around the heliport, is of varying quality in design, bulk and relationship to the river, while the infrastructure — Tube access, shops and eateries — lags behind other places.
Riverside Quarter, Battersea, at the end of Point Pleasant, has matured into the most attractive of all Wandsworth’s residential estates.
It sits on a bend of the river known as the Wandle Delta, a noted wildlife habitat, and looks across the Thames towards leafy Hurlingham Park. It has moorings plus a cluster of convenience shops and restaurants serving local residents.
More than 200 flats have been built and the final phase of 121 apartments and penthouses, some with winter gardens, is now under way. Prices start from £490,000. Call 020 8877 2000.
Riverside living is not restricted to rich buyers. Prices are lowest east of Canary Wharf, where the riverfront still has an industrial character. Docklands in general is cheaper because it is slightly disconnected from central London. River view flats start at about £290,000 at Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and from about £350,000 in Rotherhithe, a halfway point between Docklands and the West End.
The Boatyard, the first new riverside scheme in Kingston for seven years, has flats priced from £280,000. Call 020 8150 5152 for more information.
A life "moulded by water"
Clive Roberts, originally from Cape Town, says his life has been “moulded by water”. A former Olympic rower (in the 1984 team with Sir Steve Redgrave) who has also sailed for Great Britain in the Americas Cup, he moved from an Edwardian house in Putney to a Battersea Riverside Quarter flat with two terraces and panoramic views.
“I grew up in the area and since I was 13 I’ve been rowing at least twice a week on the Thames, so I know the river well,” he says.
As Henley and the Masters Regatta approaches, his rowing regime increases to four times a week, on top of regular workouts at the development’s on-site gym. “Living by the water is relaxing, even therapeutic. I jog down the towpath and in summer cycle with my daughters all the way to Richmond. The light is wonderful, always changing, and it’s fascinating to watch the constant activity on the river.”
Clive often uses the river taxi service from Riverside Quarter to travel to the City and Canary Wharf and to shows at the O2. “It beats battling through traffic in the car.”
River commuting services
* Thames Clipper provides the main services which include Embankment to Canary Wharf, taking 31 minutes. It then goes on to Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, via Greenwich — an hour in all.
* There are also evening services, with the last ferry from Embankment leaving at 23.08.
* There is another service from Bankside to St George Wharf, Vauxhall, taking 12 minutes.
* Prices are £6 for a single journey (£5.40 with an Oyster Card), and passengers with a Travelcard get a third off, making the cost just £4.
* Thames Executive Charters runs services from Putney to Blackfriars, via Chelsea Harbour. The trip from Putney to Embankment takes 45 minutes and costs £4.50 one way, or £7.75 for a return.