THE commercial property market has got tougher over the past year, according to D H Barford + Co, sponsors of Retailer of the Year Award in The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Awards. Barfords has seen the market change, but its not all doom and gloom. Twelve months ago, director Phil Halmshaw said, the Huntingdonshire area was holding up extremely well against the wider national picture. "There is no doubt, however, that the past 12 months have been extremely difficult, particularly for the retail sector," he said. But there are some positives from which local businesses can draw comfort. The shops market remains the hardest hit, but even here there are still some encouraging signs of activity. "While the demand for retail premises has been most adversely affected by the downturn, some vacant shops have been let, and there is interest in others," said Mr Halmshaw. "Most encouragingly fashion retailer Fat Face has recently opened a store in Crown Street, St Ives, and is reported to be looking for a similar outlet in St Neots. And the former Shoe Express shop in St Neots High Street is under offer to another shoe retailer." He added: "Enquiries from companies seeking property in all sectors of business are fewer than they were a year ago. Despite this we have seen a good level of lettings and sales in the industrial sector and certainly the three Ouse valley towns are holding up well compared with many other towns of a similar size." The firm has completed several sales and lettings of units ranging in size from 1,000sq ft to 50,000sq ft over the last six months, with a particular demand for depot type premises. Huntingdonshire's businesses are also proving to be more resilient than their national counterparts. "There have not been a massive number of companies closing down in the area and this has meant that there is not, at the present time, a massive oversupply of commercial space. "The recession has, however, started to see asking prices and rents reduced by owners who are keen to pick up occupiers as quickly as possible. This is certainly good for people looking to invest. "There is certainly downward pressure on the freehold prices. This does lead to opportunities for some properties to be bought at extremely competitive prices," Mr Halmshaw said. Demand for office space has decreased, although Barfords has closed a number of deals - particularly in 1,000-3,000sq ft size range. The letting of an 8,000sq ft unit at James Hall, St Ives Business Park is also close to completion. Investment in new commercial properties in Huntingdonshire is also continuing - two new office buildings are being constructed at St Ives Business Park, ready for occupation in September. "This is a massive vote of confidence for the Huntingdonshire area. There are few speculative developments of any kind across the country at the present time, and the investors in this situation have placed their confidence in St Ives as a location due to its proximity to Cambridge and the positive impact which will arise for St Ives and Huntingdon from the Guided Bus." INFORMATION: Contact D H Barford + Co on 01480 213811.