Newt-counting planners grant Boris permission to build

Detailed brick and slate features of the grade II listed Birkenhead Higher Elementary School building in Birkenhead, Wirral, Merseyside

Brightwell Manor is a three storey, Grade II Listed house in the picturesque village of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Oxfordshire. The original building dates back to the 17th Century. The oldest parts of the house are currently used as a sitting room, family room and oak-panelled bedroom suite and the garden is blessed with a newt population.

Originally, the estate comprised arable farmland and a large bell is set within the rear chimney of the house that was reputedly used to call in the farm workers from the fields. Additional properties formed once part of the estate but these were sold in 1914.

Various additions have been made to the property over hundreds of years, including an annexe and kitchen which were added in the 1950s in the Georgian style of the house. The now five acre estate comprises a moat, guest cottage, garage, tennis court, walled garden, two stables. The mansion itself currently comprises six reception rooms, nine bedrooms and five bathrooms.

The previous owners bought the manor in 1971 and, after being on the market for four years, it was purchased by Boris and Carrie Johnson in 2023. The asking price was £4 million, but Mr Johnson has been reported to have knocked £200,000 off the price. Prior to moving into the property, the Johnson family lived rent-free in various properties including a £20 million Knightsbridge townhouse and a Cotswold cottage.

Carrie’s taste in interior decoration has attracted much media attention after her expensive re-vamp of No.10. Brightwell Manor is no exception, and decorative artist Meg Boscawen (known for hand painted murals and furniture) is reported to have painted murals on the two children’s bedroom walls. Alice Palmer lightshades (in Tangier Red) and Paint and Paper Library’s green shade Apple Smiles II are also said to be in situ.

Not that I know anything about design, but so far her choices are somewhat less bling than those at No.10!

The Johnson changes to Brightwell Manor are not stopping at the decoration.

Swimming pool

Ironically, in 2020, Mr Johnson accused the planning system for the government’s failure to meet its house building targets – blaming “newt-counting” red tape causing delays in house building.

However, approval was granted in 2023 for him to build a new 11m x 4m swimming pool in the grounds of Brightwell House – with the proviso that due care would be taken to protect the resident great crested newt population. The newt is protected under UK and European wildlife laws, due to a decline in its population, largely due to habitat loss. Mr Johnson has said he would “do whatever it takes” to protect the amphibians, including building “newt motels”.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning report said Mr Johnson would enhance an existing orchard to help compensate the loss of biodiversity that might be caused by the creation of the swimming pool.  Trees would also be protected.

Entrance and external alterations

The Johnsons have gained planning permission to build “a new gated entrance with internal and external alterations” to the building.

Single storey extension

Planning permission has also been granted for the existing single storey extension to be demolished and rebuilt. The new extension will be built within the existing footprint, with the exception of an additional boot room, brick pillar loggia and larger southern patio.

The extension was originally built as servants’ quarters, and the new building will comprise a scullery, laundry room, a larder and breakfast room (each with lantern windows) and a plant room.

Minor alterations will also be made to the 18th Century wing of the mansion, which will house a new master suite with dressing room and a larger family bathroom.