Property: River of many returns

The Thames has been reborn as a vital part of the capital.

A friend took a boat trip on the Thames to Greenwich last month and was stag-gered by the change to the riverfront. "When I did the trip 10 years ago it was mostly wasteland," he said. "Now it has all these amazing buildings on both sides of the river."

London's reclaimed Docklands are at last a success story, with commercial and residential buildings still rising along the riverside. The infrastructure is still not up to scratch, but it has improved considerably. Not all the buildings are to be admired, but on the whole, the Docklands has become a new area of London of which to be proud.

Canary Wharf is very much the lynchpin of the area - one of the fastest- growing financial sectors in Europe with 80 shops and restaurants, a shopping mall due in 2000 and a further 3.6 million square feet of commercial development, mostly pre-leased, under construction. By 2002, the work force is expected to be around 90,000.

For people at Canary Wharf, who want to live within walking distance of the office, there are two immediate choices. One is Canary Riverside, along the river to the south of Canary Wharf. There are 322 apartments, a hotel and health club, with 20m swimming pool, gymnasium and natural therapy spas. There will also be a roof-top restaurant.

All this does not come cheap and the service charges are very high - around pounds 3.50 per square foot, the present average being pounds 2 per square foot - and these do not include the leisure facilities. The one-bedroom flats up to large duplex penthouses are for sale through FPDSavills and Aylesfords from pounds 242,500 to pounds 2.6m.

The other choice is West India Quay, a conversion of nine Grade I listed sugar warehouses by The Manhattan Loft Corporation, London & Easter Properties and Marylebone Warwick Balfour.

"Both developments border Canary Wharf, but this one is different because it is a conversion, and it will also have retail and leisure," says Peter Sloane of Knight Frank. Five penthouses and six apartments are available from pounds 285,000 to pounds 650,000.

There are only around 200 units in and around Shad Thames, Wapping and Rotherhithe. "Most developers are very happy with the way things are going," says Mr Sloane. "Each phased release is going up by around 5 per cent, so anyone buying right at the beginning of a development should feel pleased with themselves."

Business is so good in the Docklands that several agents have opened offices and Chestertons Residential is to open another on the Isle of Dogs at the end of September. "Apartments here have been selling well," says Carl Williams, "especially the newer ones."

He is selling apartments at Ocean Wharf, "which looks rather like a Zeppelin from the air but has some fantastic flats", he says. Two-bedroom flats cost from pounds 270,000 to pounds 300,000. At Dollar Bay, on the east of the island overlooking the inner wharf, flats are designed for "dual occupancy" which means there are two or three rooms, with en suite bathrooms, which can be used for living or bedroom space. Prices are around pounds 150,000.

Barratt Homes, which has been building in the Docklands since day one, is on its 44th development, and has provided around 4,000 completed homes worth some pounds 350m. It has built a swathe of housing along almost a mile of the south bank in Rotherhithe and is creating two futuristic- looking developments, Pierhead Lock on the Isle of Dogs and Barrier Point, by the Thames Barrier, where prices are lower.

Rosa Hargrave-Sutherland bought at Pierhead Lock because she wanted to move to the most "happening" area of London. "The Isle of Dogs is a happening place and I think this is new London as opposed to old London," she says. "When I saw the development for the first time, I was struck by its design." A total of 99 one- two- and three-bedroom apartments are priced from pounds 247,995.

Bellway Homes has two developments at Limehouse Basin and at Poplar Dock, which are proving popular. "We are continuing to see a strong investor market," says Carol Marshall, sales director of Bellway's Essex Division. "We plan six apartment buildings between the two existing buildings in the coming year and if we were to release them all for sale now, they would go in weeks."

At Limehouse Basin there are one- to two-bedroom apartments from pounds 150,000 to pounds 395,000 and at The Boardwalk, Poplar Dock, two-bedroom apartments go from pounds 185,000 to pounds 375,000. At St George's Lockes Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, overlooking the Royal Navy College in Greenwich, is a development of 464 apartments. To date, 248 have sold, with prices ranging from pounds 194,950 for a one-bedroom apartment to pounds 324,950 for a three-bedder.

Tom Marshall, of the estate agents Cluttons Daniel Smith, says: "One of the problems with Docklands developments is that the sites are too big. So you are not getting enough of a mix of development. This is why Shad Thames, Rotherhithe and Wapping have become established quicker than other areas." They are also the nearest to central London.

Two developments to be marketed this autumn are Hermitage Riverside and the newly revamped apartments at Butler's Wharf. "The ones at Butler's Wharf are going to be redesigned with the interiors done by Philippe Starck and they should be amazing," says Mr Marshall. Prices may be around pounds 500 a square foot, which would make the properties the most expensive in the Docklands. Hermitage Riverside is being built by Berkeley Homes and will be almost as highly priced. "The design of the building is far ahead of the others, with curved floor to ceiling windows and huge terraces," says Mr Marshall.

Another development in Shad Thames is Silverstreet's conversion of the period St Saviour's House. The developer plans to model the interiors in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Cluttons Daniel Smith will be the agent.

Canary Riverside marketing suite: 0171-512 9393; Chestertons Residential: 0171-357 7999; Cluttons Daniel Smith: 0171-407 36690; Knight Frank: 0171-512 9955; Barratt Southern: 0181-607 1900; Bellway: 01245 259989; Lockes Wharf: 0171-531 6280

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