Spring Property Survey: A rosier view from south of the Thames: Catherine Riley sees light at the end of Rotherhithe Tunnel

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The Independent Online
IN THE mid-Eighties, apartment blocks of the type that we thought only existed in American films sprang up along the banks of the Thames, boasting gyms, pools and porters.

London's new city had sprouted on both sides of the river, a symbol of urban growth, prosperity and optimism. Then the crash came, developers started going bust and the view from the balcony of your penthouse began to look a little less rosy.

Developments stood half finished and half empty. Plans for the proposed Jubilee Line tube extension ground to a halt and Docklands reached an impasse; unable to go back, incapable of going forward. But is there light at the end of the Rotherhithe Tunnel?

While Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs spring to mind when talking about the Docklands, it is the south side of the river, and in particular Surrey Quays, that seems to have done rather well for itself. By building not only expensive homes, but also affordable ones, the area has managed to attract first-time buyers and also keep its local population, instead of pricing them out. A new shopping centre has opened, as well as a watersports centre in Greenland Dock and there are plenty of landscaped parks, a city farm and a two-acre 'nature area', Lavender Pond.

The transport system has been much improved, although the only Tube station is on the East London line, an odd branch line serving only eight stations, with an interchange at Whitechapel. The proposed Canada Water station on the Jubilee Line extension would open up the access to central London. Buses, however, are plentiful and the journey to London Bridge takes about 15 minutes.

Many properties are now available for rent, which can be a more attractive prospect than buying; most apartments are fairly new and well fitted-out, with the additional advantage that service charges are not usually levied when you rent. For a two-bedroom flat in a block with good leisure facilities, car parking and porterage, service charges can amount to well over pounds 1,000 a year, with no guarantee that it will not double the next year.

Greenland Passage is a development that has benefited from the boom in the rental market; two-bedroom flats with terraces and a view of the river start at pounds 180 per week, while to buy they would cost pounds 80,000 and upwards.

A recent survey by Chestertons Residential has shown that sales of property for investment comprises about 50 per cent of their business. Peter Sloane, manager of Chesterton's Docklands office, says: 'Investors can expect to achieve a gross rental return in the region of 10- 12 per cent against a realistic return on central London property of 8-9 per cent.'

Building projects have also been resumed. After successfully selling all but nine of the 128 properties of their Hithe Point development, including seven in the last three weeks, Barratt have started work on Sovereign View - a mixture of one- two- and three-bed flats and houses, with prices starting at pounds 84,995 for one bedroom and rising to pounds 159,995 for three bedrooms with a river view.

The area is also welcoming temporary residents with a large youth hostel. Looking across the river towards Canary Wharf, a Swedish hotel group has opened a hotel on Rotherhithe Street, which amalgamates new development around Nelson Dock with existing warehouse space.

Next door, Quality Resorts Management have taken over 111 apartments and 15 townhouses at Lawrence Wharf, and are renting them out by the week or day (for a minimum of four days). Between 1 May and 1 October, a one-bed apartment will cost pounds 450 a week - a far cry from the pounds 120 a week which the flats used to be able to realise from private rental.

It has been a long time coming, but it looks as if south-east London is finally on the up.

(Photograph omitted)