Diary: Johnson launches fresh salvo in war on newts

Even the most resilient optimist would surely concede that Britain is facing some of the biggest challenges in its post-war history – coronavirus, Brexit and, of course, newts.

A newt (Pic: Getty)
A newt (Pic: Getty)

“Time is money,” Boris Johnson declared in a recent speech in which he decried housebuilding holdups. “And the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country.” Unlike his response to the pandemic, no-one could accuse Johnson of being tardy in recognising the newt-related threat. Back in February 2018, he used his platform as foreign secretary to question why housebuilders were forced to “build special swimming pools for newts”. Unfortunately for the prime minister, doubts are now being raised in some quarters about the extent to which newts may actually be to blame for our national woes, with the Wildlife Trusts describing Johnson’s claims as “pure fiction”. Still, better to choose the fights you can win.

Is there anything worse than a long wait for a toilet? For Isle of Wight residents, the wait is finally over after councillors approved plans to redevelop a public convenience that has been closed for much of the past two years. Sandown’s Pier Street facilities will see new public toilets installed in a two-storey structure that will also house a shop and café. Councillors heard concerns about the impact on sea views but voted in favour, presumably on the basis that most residents will be relieved to once again have somewhere to, well, relieve themselves.

Prepare for blast off. Rockets could soon be launching into orbit from Scotland after Highlands councillors approved plans for a spaceport in Sutherland. Planning officers acknowledged the potential visual and environmental impacts of the project, but advised that they would be outweighed by the economic benefits. David Oxley, director of business growth at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government’s economic development agency, was clearly over the moon. “Gaining planning approval from the council is a huge step forward,” he said – falling just short of calling it a giant leap.

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