Britain is still one of the best places in the world in which to put your money if you are investing in commercial property, says a sector expert.

In fact, with both investors and bankers expecting property returns in 2006 to be higher than last year, the UK ranks as one of Europe's top three countries offering the b est investment/lending opportunities.

"You don't just have to take our word for it," said Richard Goodall, head of the investment team at property consultants King Sturge in Birmingham.

"Just look at the Irish, the Germans and the other over-seas investors whose enthusiastic take-up of property in Birmingham, alongside that of UK financial institutions, reflects the high levels of a ctivity being recorded nationwide."

In recent months, there has been significant activity in the Midlands, with major transactions seen as a firm indication of the investment market's strength in the region.

There is pent-up demand from a variety of investors for genuine active management opportunities where purchasers can see they can add value.

"Deals such as the recent acquisitions of Drayton Manor Business Park, Tamworth and Autobase Industrial Park, Tipton, demonstrate the demand for well-let industrial estates and business parks which offer both secure income streams and potential for immediate asset enhance-ment," says Mr Goodall.

According to the results of a new survey from King Sturge, conducted among 60 leading European property investors and property bankers, a sharp increase is expected this year in projected investment in commercial property across Europe.

Respondents predict that expected lending will rise from last year's figure of 72 billion euros to 112 billion euros.

Interestingly, research suggests that nearly half of the 47 billion euros that investors had to invest in 2005 remained uninvested at the end of the year.

And the survey forecasts that this year there could again be a striking contrast between projected and actual investment, partly because quality property remains extremely scarce.

There is also increased interest among investors in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) - tax-efficient vehicles

which invest in property and which were partly created to permit individual investors to access property in a relatively straightforward manner.

REITs are more common in countries such as the United States and Australia than the UK, but 30 per cent of respondents to the King Sturge survey say they will create or invest in REITs during 2006.

But, while REITs are uniformly seen as beneficial for the property market, there is considerable scepticism over property derivatives.

Only 23 per cent of respondents likely to invest in derivatives, according to the report.

While the commercial property sector increasingly regards green issues and sustainability as topics of vital importance, it seems that the money-men have different ideas.

The King Sturge survey reveals that more than 43 per cent of investors and 72 per cent of bankers are not familiar - or have never heard of - Property Energy Certificates, which will be introduced in the EU over the next few years, grading every building according to its energy consumption.

Meanwhile, King Sturge - hard on the heels of a report which said that occupier demand for prime industrial property had pushed up rental figures in Birmingham by six per cent - has also revealed that the Midland region is spearheading the highest level of speculative development of industrial property to take place in the UK over the last five years.

The firm's latest floorspace survey indicates that just over 40 per cent of all speculative industrial development is taking place in the Midlands.

Birmingham-based Carl Durrant, who heads King Sturge's industrial agency in the West Midlands, says: "There has been a substantial increase in speculative construction over the past few months, fuelled by the fact that the development of big-box sheds is buoyant due to the weight of investment money in industrial property.

"There is demand for industrial property from both occupiers and investors, with the result that yields for industrial property have continued to harden."

Prime yields in the West Midlands are currently between six per cent and 6.25 per cent for industrial estates and between 5.75 per cent and six per cent for distribution warehouses, while prime industrial rents are £67.30 per sq m in Solihull, around £61.90 per sq m in Birmingham and between £51.10 to £53.80 per sq m in the Black Country.

Of all speculative development now under construction, 26.5 per cent is taking shape in the East Midlands, where the largest such scheme in the UK - a 699,976 sq ft warehouse - is being built at Kettering in Northamptonshire by developer ProLogis.

Scheduled for practical completion in May, it is likely to be occupied by a leading supply chain specialist.

Although the West Midlands only accounts for 13.6 per cent of all spec-build, floorspace, availability in large units has increased significantly from 5,575,700 sq ft to 8,697,231 sq ft and now provides more than 35 per cent of the region's total available stock.

The largest single speculative unit under construction in the West Midlands is at Stafford, where ProLogis is building 549,981 sq ft of space. Two smaller units totalling 190,004 sq ft are also construction on the same site.

Available floorspace in the West Midlands now stands at 24.47 million sq ft.