The long-vaunted 'apartment city' is finally taking over Docklands and not everyone is happy about it, as Gwenda Joyce-Brophy found out
When Michael Heseltine set in motion what was to become one of the largest regeneration projects in the world at the desolate wasteland that was Docklands back in 1981, Dave Whitmore was a young schoolboy in Ireland. This year Dave, an IT systems editor, has bought a three-bedroom apartment, with views over Canary Wharf, as the area witnesses one of the most spectacular residential building spurts in its history.

There are more than 20 new residential developments recently, or soon to be, completed. With each block containing up to 400 units or more, this represents a massive increase in the potential number of Docklands residents, and the creation of a little apartment city, more familiar in a European city than a British one. The character of the area is already transformed.

Dave Whitmore is typical of the new resident: he is single and works in the City. "I chose to buy in Docklands because, for the money, I was getting a lot of space for my money," he says (he paid pounds 164,000). "I have also got a guaranteed parking space, and can easily commute into work."

The essential elements of the new Docklands developments are a sense of space,modern design, usually a private external space such as a terrace or a balcony, maybe near the water, as well, of course, as a parking space. You can't expect much variation on the theme, but Dave Whitmore is not deterred by that. He obviously loves it.

"There is beautiful scenery - they are developing mooring for 100 yachts at a marina near my apartment, and of course there are views of the Millennium Dome. Not only that, big business is coming here, and they will bring people with them, who will need to be housed, pushing up demand. My flat is a home for me, but it is also an investment."

Many advertisements stress - and many of the relatively wealthy who buy here note - the potential investment returns of property in Docklands. "The good ones will command rental investment yields of around 8-9, in some cases up to 11 per cent a year," says Peter Sloane of estate agent Knight Frank's Canary Wharf office.

But tenants mean a fluid market, as does the fact that Docklands tends to attract people like Dave Whitmore - young and single. Whitmore himself admits that once he moves onto the child-rearing stage, he plans to move away altogether. "I would never bring up a child here," he says. "When I reach that stage I'll move out to the country, ideally to build my own big house, with a garden. I do have a terrace, and there are communal gardens, but I do miss a garden..." The prospective buyers that Will McKintosh, of estate agents FPD Savills, sees are typical of this demographic profile - "Singles or couples who work long hours either at Canary Wharf or nearby, and need somewhere convenient to live. We see few buyers with children."

All of which disturbs the other residents of Docklands - the ones who have lived here for generations. Harry Bell, now in his seventies, has spent much of his life in the area. "There are many residents like me who lived here before all this started, who just don't see what benefits it has brought for us," he says.

"Nine out of ten new properties being built are private - and expensive. They are not for the people who were here before, and because the firms moving in bring their own employees with them, it doesn't necessarily mean jobs for others who come from the area. The whole feel of the place is different now."

There is no turning back though. Glimpses of the partly finished underground station for the Jubilee Line extension can now be seen and when it is completed, the journey into Waterloo will take around 12 minutes. The newcomers will move in more quickly.

For some, the growing numbers of wine bars and other watering holes that they bring with them is a cheering sight, but Harry and his friends are not impressed. "It used to be a lot more sociable here years ago," he says. Life isn't rosy for everyone in apartment city.