Property: Follow the tunnel to 'desirable'

The impossible is happening. London south of the Thames is trendy, sought-after and on the up - and it's all down to new Tube lines

In Paris it's one of the most chic places to live, and the coolest of tourist traps. But in London, the south bank cannot compare with the rive gauche across the Channel. Until now. Give the south side of the Thames just a couple more years and it will give that bank of the Seine a run for its money. The reason? That most vital of the capital's arteries - the Tube.

The construction of the Jubilee Line extension is the most important thing to happen to south London for years. When it opens in March next year it will link the heart of Docklands - Canary Wharf - to the heart of the West End - Westminster, Green Park and Bond Street - via places that have never had a Tube link before. Greenwich, Bermondsey and Southwark will all be on the link, as well as Rotherhithe (to be served by Canada Water station), which until 18 months ago had the very limited East London Line) and now has just a poor bus service during tunnel refurbishment.

The result? The Jubilee Line has put south London on the map. With the prospect of greatly improved transport links in the future, housebuyers are waking up to south London's potential and already there are signs of growing interest in its neighbourhoods. House and flat prices are rising and in some areas have gone up by 25 per cent in the past 12 months.

The impact of the Tube link on south-east London lives will be profound. Take someone living in central Greenwich, for instance, who wants to go shopping in the West End. At the moment, they have a long walk or bus to the local station, a train every 20 minutes into London Bridge or Charing Cross, then a Tube journey. Or someone going from Rotherhithe to Green Park to see an exhibition at the Royal Academy. They take a dreadfully slow bus to Whitechapel, then a District Line train to Embankment, followed by two more Tube changes before getting to Green Park. In future, both journeys will take 15 minutes on one line.

The prospect of attractive, fast journeys has brought speculative builders flocking to the south of the Thames. Their apartment blocks, complete with river views, gyms and kitchens full of granite, steel and Siemens appliances, snake along the curves of the Thames from Rotherhithe to London Bridge. Sift through their paperwork and you see "Sold Sold Sold" stamped alongside the prices - as little as pounds 72,000 for a basic one-bed flat, as much as pounds 445,000 for a two-bed, top-floor apartment with views across to Canary Wharf.

Matthew Pages of Rotherhithe estate agents Alex Neil predicts the opening of the Jubilee Line will have a dramatic impact on the market. "I think it's likely people will rush to sell which will kill off the market with a glut of properties, and then it will settle down and become very prosperous. But we have already seen buyers moving in because they know that the Tube will get them to Canary Wharf in four minutes and the West End in 12. I'm selling two-bedroomed flats now for pounds 150,000 which were pounds 120,000 12 months ago."

"Suddenly, people who would once never have considered anywhere but Fulham or Chelsea are saying 'let's move here and enjoy a brand new home and somewhere close to where we work in Docklands,' says Heather Littlejohn of Savills. Savills? The upmarket estate agent that graces the pages of Country Life selling Georgian rectories? The same. So dramatic has been the turnaround in south-east London's fortunes that this upmarket agent is selling flats in Jacob's Island, Rotherhithe. The first two parts of this complex aren't due to be completed until spring but had sold out by July last year. But what brings estate agents like Savills and expatriate Fulham bankers to south-east London is not just the promise of the Tube. It is also history.

This, don't forget, is the area where the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe met his death, where Henry VIII had his shipyard and where you can enjoy a pint overlooking the river in one of the oldest pubs on the Thames, the Mayflower at Rotherhithe. And if you want the trendy present, you can enjoy a wander round the Design Museum and spend a night out in Shad Thames in one of Terence Conran's restaurants, be it Le Pont de La Tour, La Cantina or the Chop House.

Those who buy now along this bank of the Thames in Southwark will be moving in at the start of a remarkable transformation. Already there are signs of the prosperity to come. The Tate Gallery is converting the old Bankside power station into a new venue, and the recently opened Globe Theatre is preparing for its first full summer season. Further along the riverbank, the Oxo Tower has become a glittering feature of the London skyline, housing the highly-successful Harvey Nichols restaurant and affordable social housing.

Geoff Marsh, of the analysts London Property Research, believes that Southwark, particularly Bankside, has the makings of a Boulevard St Germain. "It is not seen as being of national civic and architectural importance, but it is a site for real Londoners, rich and poor, living, working and playing," he says.

Areas such as Southwark and Bermondsey, says Marsh, will undoubtedly benefit from the Jubilee Line, linking them to Westminster and the West End, but City people will also be attracted, he believes, because they can walk to work. "Bermondsey is an unsung success story," he says. "The volume builders have created their own new town there, with homes and gardens, and nobody seems to have noticed."

But can the Jubilee Line transform a neighbourhood down on its luck? Waterloo should be one of the most exciting areas of London with the benefit of the South Bank as well as two fine theatres and several good restaurants on the mainline station's doorstep. Yet it feels forgotten.

Within the next few years, however, several developments will be completed which promise to revive the area. County Hall will get a new lease of life as an apartment block, aquarium and hotel, part of the Shell Centre will be converted into flats, the former Bull Ring roundabout will be turned into a cinema and the Jubilee Line will open. But Waterloo, like Bermondsey, Southwark and Rotherhithe, is not just about gleaming new apartments. It has a community and people who want to live in a lively neighbourhood will find pockets of housing in some well-established London "villages".

Shops, bars and pubs can all be found along The Cut and Lower Marsh, used by the people of Waterloo living cheek by jowl with trains roaring in from Paris, Lille and Brussels. For those who prefer older, more conventional suburbs along the river, the Jubilee Line will also provide better access to Greenwich and Blackheath.

Dudley Gillham, director of estate agents John Payne, says housebuyers are flocking to Greenwich and Blackheath, attracted by their proximity to Canary Wharf, a short drive away through the Blackwall Tunnel. "In the short term that is what people like about the area, together with its open spaces, good housing, shops, and history," says Gillham. "But buyers are becoming increasingly aware of what lies ahead: the Millennium Exhibition, the Docklands Light Railway extension and the Jubilee Line extension."

Is this estate agent hype? Think back to the days of the Victoria Line's launch and its impact on areas connected for the first time to the West End and beyond. Prices in Brixton shot up within weeks, while Islington had a new lease of life thanks to its West End link via Highbury and Islington station on the Victoria Line. And neither of those areas have what the Jubilee Line extension neighbourhoods can boast: London's most underrated treasure on their doorsteps: the river.

The writer is residential property journalist of the year

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