Boris Johnson has pledged to “do whatever it takes” to protect newts who may scupper his plans to build an outdoor swimming pool at his Oxfordshire country manor.
The former prime minister said he could create “newt motels” or a haven, dubbed ” Newtopia,” at the Grade II-listed Brightwell Manor he shares with wife Carrie and their three young children if needed.
His planning application was met with a holding objection raising concerns that the local population of great crested newts (GCN) could be threatened by the construction.
It comes after Mr Johnson in 2020 blamed “newt-counting” red tape in the planning system for delays in housebuilding.
A planning application was lodged in June with South Oxfordshire District Council for the installation of a new 11-by-four-metre swimming pool on the grounds of the ex-premier’s home.
In his Daily Mail column, Mr Johnson wrote: “If it turns out that our garden is so honoured and so fortunate as to be the home of some newts — great crested, palmate, whatever — I want you to know that I will do whatever it takes to protect them.
“If we have to build little newt motels to house them in their trips past the swimming pool, then we will. If we have to create whole newt-friendly bunds to stop them falling in, we will.
“We will excavate new ponds in which they can breed. We will make a Newtopia!”
The South and Vale countryside officer last month filed a holding objection, protesting that the rare amphibians could be “impacted by the proposed development”.
In his report which stated that planning permission should not “currently” be granted, local government ecologist Edward Church wrote: “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.
“The proposed development falls within the red zone of highest risk to GCN.”
Mr Johnson said that according to one of the “amazingly expensive but worth every penny” ecology reports he has received, “there are certainly bodies of water nearby that could be hospitable to newts”.
He added: “There is a chance that these creatures could be interrupted in their peregrinations, when they leave their watery lairs, by an unexpected new hole in the lawn.”
He also wrote: “I am told that something that could be the spoor of the newt has been found, but we await DNA testing from the lab — and so, inevitably, I am warned that there may be delays, and there may be costs.”
Great crested newts, which are black with spotted flanks and an orange belly, are protected under UK and European wildlife law.
Their numbers are in decline, with habitat loss being their biggest threat.
As prime minister, Mr Johnson said in a speech about rebooting the economy three years ago that “newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag” on productivity in the UK.
Missed the latest edition of ITV News Meridian? Catch up with the most recent programme and weather forecast now