Is Metaverse the next frontier for developers?

March 16, 2022

With the recent rebranding of Facebook to Meta and the rise of gaming virtual world platforms Epic Games and Trinity, the attraction of digital land acquisition is becoming a new significant investment opportunity.

Author | David Edwards, Oakfield Design & Creation

With the recent rebranding of Facebook to Meta and the rise of gaming virtual world platforms Epic Games and Trinity, the attraction of digital land acquisition is becoming a new significant investment opportunity.

In November 2021, a plot of virtual land sold for $2.43 Million, double the previous record for land prices in a virtual space.

Meta Group recently purchased the popular Decentraland, an online environment where users can exchange cryptocurrency for land and buildings. Decentraland allows users to walk through the digital world, meet other users and use customisable Avatars and Meta Group’s purchase indicates that they believe add ons or customisation of a users Avatar is where the market is going, now and in the future.

Already there is interest from high-end luxury fashion houses, which has already generated buzz and hype within the virtual world. Once users have upgraded their Avatar with the latest Rolex, Gucci outfit or Jimmy Choo shoes, it’s indicated that buying a digital property will become the next level of customisation.

Developments with more consumer choice

Customers in the real world can now also be offered an option to buy a virtual world version of their new home. Not only can they live in it in the real world, but they can also live in it in the digital world.

This additional choice can offer a more extensive range of options. You may reside in the UK, but your house in the digital world can be anywhere on the planet, in a tropical paradise, the heart of the busiest cities or perched on a tranquil, snowy mountain top.

Maybe you would like a kitchen upgrade or different roof tiles, even different weather. All these add-ons can be supplied at a low-level cost to the consumer. People’s need for instant gratification and the ever-present “keeping up with the Jones’s” can easily be satisfied in the virtual world. There is no end to the possibilities, with the only limits is being our imagination.

When will virtual worlds be accessible?

This all sounds wonderful and if truth be told, somewhat worrying. The current software and graphic capabilities are there already and improving all the time. The only drawback is the hardware to support such grand ideas. Currently, clumpy headsets and expensive equipment means this is primarily an enthusiast’s passion.

But as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent keynote suggests, he has a five-year plan to start bringing AR headsets and lightweight wearable technology to the masses and with other gaming and digital producers also accelerating this process, it is only be a matter of time before we are all able to live in a digital paradise, built and maintained by the world’s biggest and boldest property developers.

The march towards living in the virtual world has already begun.

Planning – challenges being faced

January 31, 2022

In current and future development strategy meetings with our clients and their architects, we are continually hearing that the bottlenecks in obtaining planning approval for these schemes are pushing timelines further and further back. We sat down with James Griffin, founding partner of Zesta Planning, to discuss the issues.

In current and future development strategy meetings with our clients and their architects, we are continually hearing that the bottlenecks in obtaining planning approval for these schemes are pushing timelines further and further back.

We sat down with James Griffin, founding partner of Zesta Planning, Cheltenham to discuss the issues and challenges facing developers and architects and the potential solutions to accelerating approvals.

Paul Skuse (PS)
James, before we get into the nitty-gritty of this, sometimes contentious subject, it would be great to know a little about Zesta Planning.

James Griffin (JG)
So in summary, Zesta is a dynamic planning consultancy looking to do something innovative within the market – we’re friendly, approachable and have a wide range of experience. We operate predominately throughout the West, West Midlands and South West, but also nationally when needed – we pick up a whole range of projects including commercial and housing related projects, but also bespoke rural schemes, including ‘grand design’ style new homes and conversion proposals. We work very closely with architects but also with larger development companies. Unlike a larger corporate company, all our planners at Zesta are very accessible and thrive on devoting our time to clients’ needs.

So, it sounds like you mentioned innovative at the top there, is that a key differentiator? Is it relationship based, it’s bringing a bit of freshness to what is a fairly traditional style of working with people?

Absolutely, we like to focus on the personable side to really identify what client’s needs are and that helps us stand to out from the crowd. We have a very competent team that can work directly with clients, tailoring our approach to whatever the project requires. As you suggest, I think the innovative approach is that we are personable, yet able to combine that with clear, concise advice using the vast experience we have. We’re a medium sized company, yet can bring in the vast knowledge we have in the company to problem solve and devise robust planning strategies, focused on gaining the right result.

You mentioned problem solving. Are there any key challenges and problems you are seeing out there in the marketplace at the moment?

Without doubt one of the main challenges presently is engaging with local planning authorities. With reduced council budgets, challenging staffing levels, high staff turnover and timescales often being missed, a lot of our time is focused on how best to move applications forward within the system that is, to be honest, feeling heavy strain and failing at the moment. We are quite often pulled into projects to identify how best to get applications moving, so the knowledge that our team has – from both private and public sector backgrounds, really helps tackle the unique circumstances any such application is facing.

Do you foresee that maybe there is a future where the council are still in charge of the planning from their point of view but the private sector, you, as planning consultants, are able to be given more and more responsibility to help take those bottle necks out the equation a little?

We are already starting to see that Councils are utilising contract planners. These are often ‘private planners’ who are contracted to work for the Council, so in-part it is already starting to happen. Such appointments can often be short-term however, so this can often result in a lack of consistency and high turnover. You could have a very competent planner on particular case yet that planner can easily move on. But that is why are planning strategy right from day one as it has to be tailored to the circumstances surrounding that particular local authority. We know there are local planning authorities out there that are better resourced than others and our planning strategy has to reflect that situation, to be honest. A more comprehensive privatisation approach to planning department would be very challenging given the likely adverse public perception and preserved integrity of decision making.

Highly tailored to each distract council and their staff levels, so historically you know how they work, and they are all fairly different.

Absolutely. Right from day one, we need to understand the make-up of that local authority both at officer and political level, and then tailor our approach to that circumstance. There is no doubt that utilising contract planners is certainly helping to get things moving but there is still that consistency challenge during the often lengthy decision making process. Regrettably, this does affect good place making.  Our broad experience and backgrounds at Zesta can help. We always seek to understand the intricate processes of each Council we deal with and their internal structures /context.

Their own politics.

Their own politics, exactly. Being a technically competent planner is one thing, yet to be a good place maker, you really need to understand the local decision making environment and key players involved throughout.

Are there any steps being taken by the local councils to fast-track new planners in at their end or is their thinking maybe that they can push back and lean more on yourselves, as planning consultants to take a lot of the heavy lifting away from them.

Generally speaking, I think there is a disconnect between the public and private sector in this country, which is very sad. Of course, it varies between councils but there can be a perceived lack of respect between both sides which there doesn’t need to be. Agent and developer forums can help re-addressed that but there generally needs to be an acceptance between both parties that we need to work together to deliver to nuts and bolts of what makes a place function – homes, school, parks etc.  It is often welcoming when dealing with a council officer that understands that and you can work together to achieve good quality development in a timely fashion. That all relies on trust building and mutual respect.  It happens in other countries, where there is often a closer working relationship between both sectors, in places like New Zealand and Australia. They of course have differing systems/environments  to ours, but it can happen and I do think there does need to be more outreach.

So as a wrap up of this really, is that is part of your remit, at Zesta these days, it is not just the planning consultancy side of things, the planning strategy and the process, methodology, it is actually having to understand and take a lead role from a consultancy point of view in helping the local authorities to get your planning over the line as quickly as possible?


So, you are almost hand holding in a certain way, managing the project?

Yes, absolutely in most instances.

And then approaching the entire process from a holistic point of view?

Absolutely, that is always our role as lead planning consultant on any project. It is our responsibility to be custodian of the project and obtain the right result for our client team.   This can involve intricate navigation throughout the planning process and direct engagement with officers, and their consultees. We’ve been asked to support that process in numerous ways from displaying site notices, to helping to draft sections of reports – all to help ease pressures currently being experienced and get applications moving.  Relationship building is at its heart and we do our utmost to get the Council to a point where they can make a decision, preferably favourably!

James, thank you for your insights into the challenges that you, developers and architects are facing right now as well as the local authorities, and the steps that can be taken to help push planning through the bottle necks as quickly as possible.

To find out more about James and Zesta Planning, visit Zesta Planning.

Reclaiming the city: the rise of the public realm

September 27, 2021

The pandemic caused us to take notice of many things around us and to reassess them with fresh eyes. One of these was our use of urban spaces. For a brief, blissful moment, there was a huge reduction in the traffic flowing around cities and people headed to parks and green spaces in droves.

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The pandemic caused us to take notice of many things around us and to reassess them with fresh eyes. One of these was our use of urban spaces. For a brief, blissful moment, there was a huge reduction in the traffic flowing around cities and people headed to parks and green spaces in droves.

However much we might rely on cars, the peace and quiet was a welcome break from the norm of traffic jams, congestion and pollution, and it has chimed with ongoing discussions about efforts to reduce congestion, limit carbon emissions and reclaim the city from the car.

What happened to the public realm?

The conversations around the right approach to creating public realm – described by the London Mayor’s Design Advisory Group (MDAG) as “the spaces around (and sometimes within) buildings in which we can go to and fro, meet people and enjoy the city” – are not new.

Back in 1997, Richard Rogers wrote in Cities for Small Planet: “Most of our public parks, squares and avenues are bequeathed to us from previous centuries. In this modern age of democracy one would expect many more important additions to the public realm, but in fact our contribution appears to be the erosion of these spaces by traffic and personal greed. The public realm is being restricted by the overbearing presence of security, the imposition of entrance fees to cultural institutions, the decline of public amenities and the dominance of the car, which reduces public spaces to narrow pavements. And buildings are being designed as if they were stand­alone objects, rather than elements that enclose and shape the public realm.”

Quality of life

The pandemic has accelerated our engagement with the public realm. The past 18 months have shown that outside space is more important than ever, and it has become an integral part of pandemic life. As The London Plan 2021 puts it, “The quality of the public realm has a significant influence on quality of life because it affects people’s sense of place, security and belonging, as well as having an influence on a range of health and social factors.”

In the UK, some city councils are attempting to reduce the number of vehicles in our city centres, with many cities introducing or trialling Clean Air Zones (CAZ): Bath and Birmingham’s CAZ are live now, while CAZ will be introduced in Bristol, Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Sheffield later in 2021 and 2022. London will be expanding its existing Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in October 2021.

Design and architecture, too, have an important role to play in creating public realm spaces. Around the world, several interesting examples and initiatives in public realm design are in progress; designed to drive cars out of city centres and to encourage people to move around them.

Residents of Stockholm are being asked to help redesign the urban spaces right outside their front door. Pre-built furniture modules are replacing parking spaces with tables, benches and plants. It’s part of a government initiative to help people improve the immediate environment around their homes. In trial installations in Sweden’s capital, consultations with local communities are determining the use and configuration of the units. Further sites in Gothenburg, Helsingborg, and Malmö are in different stages of completion. This hyperlocal approach to planning is built around the concept of the one-minute city, a movement that wants people to make small, achievable differences that will add up to something bigger.

Similarly, in Paris, authorities have announced that some 70,000 surface parking spots (half of the street parking spaces in the capital city) will be gone by 2025. This will free up space, particularly on narrow and residential streets, for more eco-friendly transport options and leisure pursuits, making local neighbourhoods greener and more liveable. The deputy mayor in charge of the initiative commented, “We can no longer use 50 per cent of the capital for cars when they represent only 13 per cent of people’s journeys.”

In the UK, the London Plan 2021 sets out a framework for how London will develop over the next 20-25 years. The Public Realm policy section states that development plans and proposals should not only, “encourage and explore opportunities to create new public realm where appropriate” but also, “maximise the contribution that the public realm makes to encourage active travel and ensure its design discourages travel by car and excessive on-street parking, which can obstruct people’s safe enjoyment of the space. This includes design that reduces the impact of traffic noise and encourages appropriate vehicle speeds.” There are many more recommendations: have a read of ‘Policy D8 Public Realm’ if you’re interested in the proposals for our capital city.

Local plans for the public realm

We can already see smaller examples of public realm being incorporated into developments closer to home. In Cheltenham, a design proposal for a new plaza space at the Quadrangle that will improve the relationship between the 1970s landmark and Imperial Square Gardens has been approved by Cheltenham Borough Council. Architects and landscape architects have developed the new plaza plans, creating a softer edge between the Quadrangle and the Gardens, helping to further open up the space. The plaza will retain external seating areas for ground-floor restaurants from the original plans but will now also incorporate new landscaping to create a greater connection between the two spaces.

The Lightwell is a residential development, designed by architects Glancy Nicholls, to capture and celebrate the spirit of Colmore Business District. Surrounding a central courtyard, or ‘lightwell’, this focal point captures the light and space of the development. It sits within the Snow Hill Public Realm programme, being delivered by Colmore Business Improvement District and Birmingham City Council. The programme includes several projects to improve public transport interchange and connectivity, enhance the public realm and prioritise pedestrian movement, reallocate the unused on-street parking and encourage on-street activities.

In Bristol, there are several residential and commercial developments which have incorporated the public realm into their masterplans. Brabazon will be an entirely new city district and home to Bristol’s new Arena. Landscape architects Grant Associates have worked with architects Allies and Morrison on the masterplan and developed the overall landscape and public realm strategy for the scheme, which will incorporate commercial and leisure spaces and a generous network of open spaces, as well homes and schools, to create a new town centre.

In the city centre, The Soapworks is a new vibrant and inclusive district, located in Broad Plain, which will combine retail and commercial space, an independent food and drink offer, and new homes. Its inclusive public open space will be open to all, with improvements to the surrounding public realm and the creation of new pedestrian and cycle links planned. Similarly, commercial waterfront development Assembly Bristol places public realm at its heart, with spectacular new waterfront spaces for all to enjoy. The Broad Plain strategy area is undergoing rapid social and economic change as new development transforms the area into a flatted, residential quarter. The strategy aims to maximise the opportunities presented by the regeneration of the area and will support the community vision for an attractive central neighbourhood with convivial public spaces and people-friendly streets that is not dominated by traffic.

As our consideration of what a good work-life balance looks like has shifted over the past 18 months, so cities and their developments need to reflect this. How do you think we will see cities evolving as we transition to a new normal?

Residential property: the sales agent’s view

August 31, 2021

The last 12-18 months have been strange for everyone, with repercussions that are being felt across every sector. Oakfield’s Director Paul Skuse recently caught up with Dan Harris, Partner at Knight Frank Bristol, to find out what’s been happening in the property market and where it is going to go next…

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The last 12-18 months have been strange for everyone, with repercussions that are being felt across every sector. Oakfield’s Director Paul Skuse recently caught up with Dan Harris, Partner at Knight Frank Bristol, to find out what’s been happening in the property market and where it is going to go next.

Since Covid hit, the way in which the property market reacts to events has changed. Before, property sales followed a cyclical shape: these were seasonal, with peaks in the Spring, post-Summer, September and October, and troughs in August and December. Now the market is very much led by what is happening in the wider world, with people picking up the latest stories in the news in relation to lockdown and more as it happens.

“Rather than ebbing and flowing, the market is reacting far more precisely and far faster than it ever has before and it is very difficult to see the shape of it from week to week. As an agent, you have to be on your absolute top form to make sure you are ready and prepared for pretty much anything. It is far more reactive, and similar to other territories and more mature markets, like the financial markets that tend to react very quickly to events. The housing market seems to be led much more by the macro-economic and political environment more than ever before.”
Dan Harris

Having said that, there are still micro markets, and you cannot look at a city and see one story: there is a variety of stories from postcode to postcode and different parts of the city react in different ways. The agents’ skill is predicting how each area is going to develop and look for the places where there is likely to be strongest movement.

There are a number of ways sales agents can spend time analysing data and looking at the way the markets are moving to try and predict events going forwards. Take an area that is incredibly hot, like central Bristol, where prices have risen quite substantially over the last few years. Outside that, there might be an area where the prices are quite low by comparison, and it would be reasonable to suggest that there will be some adjustment there, perhaps an even greater adjustment than in another area where a warmer postcode is next to a hot postcode. Agents need to have a very good understanding of their local market to be able to spot and predict these adjustments.

“It is not just about looking on a map and looking at stats coming through, it’s about really looking, embedding yourself in the location. If you’re born and bred in Bristol, then you are already starting from a much stronger position, because you understand how these different markets work and how they behave.”
Dan Harris

Before even looking at the visible indicators like delis, coffee shops and big brands moving to an area, agents are looking to read the market. They can see the potential of a space or an area from a number of viewpoints, including its socio-economic profile or existing and new transport links. Their skill is in looking at how an area is taking shape and predicting how that is going to develop. Once an area is established, then you tend to get the arrival of a thriving coffee shop, for example, and this embeds it even further.

Developers can accelerate that process – a good example of this is Bristol’s Wapping Wharf – by putting in coffee shops and independent brands, which help to identify the location and enable people to clearly understand it. Another example is the Chocolate Factory in BS5, which is helping to establish the development in the area. Others are following suit due to the fact that this is a very different product to what’s on offer in the neighbourhood: typically, back-to-back Victorian, two-up two-down terrace houses. The Chocolate Factory is a significant scheme, and it’s modern and unique. It will also feature a square and places for people to meet, and this will have a huge impact on the area, drawing people to it, not just locally but from elsewhere across the city.

One final crucial point is that sales agents see themselves as partners and that partnership starts right at the very beginning of every scheme. They are involved at every stage of the process and they are available to the client at all times. But they also have a role to play in coming forward with positive, useful and reliable stats, figures and research that can inform a development.

“The skill of an agent working in residential development consultancy is helping the client to create a development which is designed to meet demand so that when the development is brought to the market, we know even before we launch, that it will sell and sell well.”
Dan Harris

Rethinking how we market the family home

July 21, 2021

The events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an incredibly fast shift in how homes are being used, resulting in new challenges for developers and marketeers alike. It’s been really interesting to discuss these changes with our clients and sales agents…

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an incredibly fast shift in how homes are being used, resulting in new challenges for developers and marketeers alike.

With extra demands as a result of working from home or home schooling, houses and their living spaces are being redefined.

It’s been really interesting to discuss these changes with our clients and sales agents, and to reflect on how this is changing the way we market new homes.

With families competing for wifi hotspots, naturally lit or aesthetically pleasing backgrounds for Zoom calls, or quiet corners for study — bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms have become multifunctional spaces. Much sought after leisure time has also created demand for children’s TV or play areas and spaces for home cinemas, gyms and yoga studios.

While open plan living areas still prove to be popular with families as the heart of the home, we all need a bolt hole to escape to and we’re seeing the need to illustrate how studies, snugs and extra bedrooms are now just as important.


The language we adopt in sales brochures and marketing campaigns is working harder than ever to help portray the changing needs of our audiences. What was previously marketed and furnished as a five bedroom home is now promoted as ‘four bedroom with home office or private studio area.’

Our CGIs are also working harder to visualise how to showcase these adaptable spaces.


In 2020 Property portal Rightmove, reported buyers prioritising larger homes and outdoor space above other location factors, with half of renters and 39% of homebuyers stating that their priorities had changed.

It’s clear that the pandemic has been a catalyst for that change, and for many, life goals that were part of a five year life plan, are being acted on now. Access to quality green space and private gardens are being sought to provide new opportunities to connect with nature, pursue new hobbies or to grow fruit and vegetables in the quest for more self reliance — even to provide havens for home holidays. Garages which were formally dormant spaces are now making ideal gyms and offices and bike storage for the whole family is being utilised.


As we are adapting our marketing efforts to meet the needs of what people need from homes, Architects and Housebuilders continue to look at how this impacts the design and planning process, with a greater emphasis on access to quality green space and flexible living spaces.

The knock on effect of hybrid and home working will be seen as the commercial real estate market changes and it will be fascinating to see how this evolves over the forthcoming months and years, as family and work life looks to find a new balance and the lines between each continue to blur.

How are you adapting your marketing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 Please get in touch…