Many properties are still going for a song in the old, ungentrified East End. But with Docklands' yuppies for its nearest neighbours, can this last? Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
They may look, feel, smell and taste like Docklands, and have road signs to the Royal Docks, but Silvertown and North Woolwich are not yet bona fide members of loft-&-cafe-latte society. This slice of E16 is a socio-economic as well as geographic part of London's East End.

Not everyone realises this, says Ian Middleton of Halifax estate agents in nearby Plaistow: "Buyers are coming out here on the back of Docklands marketing." Local housebuyers know and accept the area for what it is, but many outsiders fail to realise this is the East End."

This news is not all bad: the new waterside developments provide a Docklands lifestyle, and properties in the old ungentrified neighbourhoods are going for a song even as the entire area is being radically and rapidly transformed. Sarah Thompson is programme manager of East London Partnerships (ELP), a private, public, and voluntary sector partnership which is working in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. She says that: "The European headquarters of Norton Healthcare recently opened on the Royal Docks along with a new campus of the University of East London. We estimate that the Excel exhibition centre [under construction] will bring 14,000 jobs to the area."

With Canary Wharf's development possibilities rapidly approaching exhaustion, attention has turned eastward. There are currently two enormous projects in the immense docks that stretch through most of this area.

First in was Wimpey, which started selling many of its 823 units in Britannia Village several years ago and is releasing others in phases. The flats and town houses are on a two-mile-long plot straddling the long, narrow Royal Victoria Dock.

Next to Wimpey is Barratt's Barrier Point, 252 units in an 18-storey cylindrical tower, along with lower-level flats built directly on the river. This development, which includes a 23-acre park, extends to the Thames Barrier.

Wimpey resident Janet Goulton bought her flat to be near her job as commercial development manager of London City Airport, the area's second largest employer after sugar producer Tate & Lyle.

"I bought my flat two and a half years ago," she says. "The water gives you a sense of space, and there is a lot of sky here. Eventually, this development will be an urban village with shops, a doctor's surgery, a playground and schools."

Until then, the pioneer residents have to buy their milk from the local petrol station and shlep to Beckton for supermarket shopping. "We all go to a pub on a boat," says Ms Goulton. "I like it here."

She has a lodger to help with mortgage repayments. "I paid pounds 94,000, and I noticed a few months ago that two-bed flats are selling for pounds 130,000. They have 570 square feet, and mine has 618. Many flats are being let, and there is a letting agency on the site."

In time, these developments will create their own ambience, but now they are part of the old, well-established community. "Years ago there were many burglaries, but Wimpey installed cameras and I haven't heard of any problems since then," says Ms Goulton.

"I feel secure on the estate, but crime still concerns me. Last night I returned on the DLR [Docklands Light Railway] and saw many youths on the station who looked as if they were ready to cause trouble. I made sure the police were told all about it."

The Low-Down

Transport: The North London Line has one station serving Silvertown and the airport, and another for North Woolwich. The Jubilee and Metropolitan Lines are available at Canning Town and Stratford. The DLR has four stations in the Royals Business Park, and there is a planned extension to the airport. Woolwich and the opposite bank are accessible via a free and frequent car and pedestrian ferry and a foot-tunnel outside the North Woolwich station.

London City Airport: Approximately two dozen European and British destinations are served by 14 airlines including KLM-UK, Lufthansa, Air France, Jersey European, Sabena, Crossair, ScotAirways and Braathens-Malmo. Recent additions are Aer Lingus and British Regional Airlines.

Britannia Village: Wimpey will release several hundred additional units in phases. The project has been designed to exploit waterside views, and the higher prices of the flats north of Wesley Avenue reflect their superior location over the dock. Some units have balconies and roof terraces. Prices range from pounds 141,000 for a third-floor two-bed flat at 570sq ft with parking, to pounds 230,000 for a three-storey, three-bed town house with integral garage.

Barrier Point: Barratt's development will include a ground-floor restaurant accessible from a riverside walk. Flats range from one to three bedrooms, with covered private parking. The low-level rectangular blocks next to the imposing cylindrical tower have stepped storeys, which means roof terraces abound. Prices range from pounds 132,995 to pounds 350,000, with occupation scheduled to start next autumn.

Elsewhere: If you are not desperate to buy brand-new, and have no objection to spending half of what a flat in Britannia Village or Barrier Point might cost, Halifax is selling one-bed modern flats for less than pounds 50,000, and a three-bed house with garden is only pounds 80,000.

Eat your heart out, Earl's Court: The Excel exhibition centre in the Royal Business Park will have waterfront cafes, bars and restaurants, five hotels and 150 serviced apartments. The area also features windsurfing and watersports centres, the Royal Victoria Gardens, and an Old Station Museum. Newham Council Tax is pounds 470 for Band A, pounds 704 for Band D, and pounds 1,409 for Band H.

Contacts: Barratt, 0171-511 4139; Halifax, 0171-474 9157; Wimpey, 0171- 474 2200; East London Partnership,0181-257 2257.