'I'll cohabit with newts!' says Boris Johnson as swimming pool plans come under threat

A great crested newt and Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson's plans to install a swimming pool to his £3.8 million Oxfordshire home have been blocked due to being in a "zone of risk" for great crested newts (Image credit: Getty)

Boris Johnson has said he will be "delighted" to live with newts, in response to news that the amphibians could block his plans to install a swimming pool.

The species, which Boris Johnson had previously fought to remove protection rights from, are now scuppering his plans to install a pool on his 17th century, £3.8 million, Oxfordshire home, as the planned site falls within the "highest zone of risk" of great crested newts, which is a protected species.

The South Oxfordshire District Council countryside officer has raised a holding objection to the plans claiming Johnson's plans could endanger the local population of newts, which meant Johnson could not gain planning permission.

'We will make a Newtopia!' says Johnson

Responding to the news that newts could block Johnson's plans for a new pool Johnson claims he will be "delighted" if newts are found on his property.

In a video posted in the Daily Mail Johnson stated: "It is conceivable that the presence of these newts could delay or even prohibit certain plans that I have, but I want you to know that if there are newts here, there can be no one more delighted than me to cohabit with those threatened amphibians."

Johnson went on to say that he believed: "It is our job to protect them and do everything we can to make sure that they do not suffer the continual decline in population that we have seen in the last 30 years."

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In his Daily Mail blog Johnson even claimed he would be willing to create "newt motels" for the creatures and "do whatever it takes to protect them".

Although no newts have yet been found on the site, Johnson claims he would be willing to "build little newt motels to house them in their trips past the swimming pool."

Johnson even declared: "We will excavate new ponds in which they can breed. We will make a Newtopia!"

"In fact, I will go so far as to say this: that if necessary — to protect the newts — I will consecrate the entire swimming pool to these wonderful survivors of the vast defeated armies of Nature"

Contrary to previous anti-newt remarks by Johnson

These comments by Johnson as a far cry from previous statements Johnson has made against the protected species.

Three years ago, during his tenure as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson criticised the amphibians, holding them responsible for the sluggish pace of new home construction in the UK.

Johnson made a speech in Dudley in June 2020 where he stated: "Newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country and so we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster and that is why the Chancellor and I have set up Project Speed to scythe through red tape and get things done."

Project Speed planned to be “the most radical” changes to planning reforms since the Second World War, but this scheme never started.

The irony of Johnson's remarks will not be lost on him as the newts who he blamed for delaying construction now block his plans to build his pool.

Great crested newts enjoy legal protection under the law. Natural England state it is strictly prohibited to "damage or destroy a breeding or resting place" or to intentionally "capture, kill, disturb, or injure" these creatures. 

This protection was introduced as the population of great crested newts has significantly declined over the last few decades.

A great crested newt with its mouth open

Great crested newts are a protected species as their populations have suffered significant decline over the last 60 years in Europe (Image credit: Getty)

Home is possible site of a 12th-century castle

In May of this year, Johnson relocated to a historic 400-year-old Oxfordshire home worth £3.8 million, just eleven months after stepping down as Prime Minister. 

This Grade-II listed, nine-bedroom residence, where he resides with his wife, Carrie, and their three children, boasts its own walled garden, a tennis court, and a three-sided moat.

Recently, he submitted an application through his planning agent, Clearwater Pools, to construct a pool measuring 11 meters by 4 meters (12 yards by 4 yards). The application was officially lodged in June, with a "target" decision date set for August 14.

However, the proposed pool has already faced opposition from the local authority's County Archaeological Services. They expressed concern about the manor's significant archaeological interest as it potentially occupies the site of a 12th-century siege castle and also sits within the Brightwell-cum-Sotw Conservation area.

The authority urged Johnson to implement archaeological monitoring during the construction to ensure the preservation of the historical site.

Boris's planned pool is in 'highest risk zone' for newts

Johnson has been told his planned pool falls within “the red zone of highest risk” of great crested newts, according to the planning report.

Edward Church, a South and Vale Countryside Officer who is in charge of protecting wildlife in the district, said in his report: “There are known populations of great crested newts in the east of the village.

“Mapping shows that there is a pond onsite and a moat immediately adjacent to the southern boundary, both well within 250 metres of the position of the proposed pool.

"Natural England guidance requires that proposals need to demonstrate no risk to GCN or appropriate levels of mitigation and compensation following assessment.

“Based on the information available to me currently, I am of the opinion that there is a reasonable likelihood that GCN are present and could be impacted by the proposed development.”

In 2019, new regulations were introduced to grant developers increased flexibility in addressing the presence of great crested newts, aiming to circumvent potential project delays. 

These rules allow Johnson two options: he can either wait for a newt survey, which might postpone the project by a year, or he can pay to construct a new habitat for the protected species or else his planning permission may be refused.

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.