Zac Goldsmith’s resignation likely after Heathrow Airport runway announcement

Heathrow Airport. Photograph: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz
Heathrow Airport. Photograph: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Zac Goldsmith looks poised to honour his longstanding pledge to stand down and force a by-election in his constituency in protest at the government’s backing for a new runway at Heathrow Airport.

After Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced the move today in the Commons, an outraged Goldsmith accused the government of “betrayal” and said it had “chosen a course that is not only wrong, it is doomed”.

Goldsmith said environmental harm would be caused to one million people because of the project, which he predicted would “almost certainly” never be delivered because of the complexities, costs and legal complications that would surround it.

Building a new runway at Heathrow would be a “millstone” around the government’s neck and a “constant source of anger and betrayal among those people who will be directly affected”, he said.

Grayling replied that he respected the Richmond Park and North Kingston Conservative MP’s views and his “commitment to his constituents”.

But he added: “All of us in politics have to do what we believe is right. His views are very much what he believes is right. Not all of us are going to get it right all of the time, but you have to do what you believe is right for your country, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

He added: “I know how strongly members in London feel about this decision.” But he said it was in the interests of the whole of the UK.

Boris Johnson and Justine Greening are among the cabinet members expected to fight the government over its plans.

Cheryl Gillan, a Buckinghamshire Tory MP, asked whether the government would undertake to study the cumulative impact of having Heathrow expansion and HS2 taking place at the same time and in close proximity.

Labour’s Andy Burnham, who is campaigning to become Mayor of Manchester, attacked the “obsessive focus on London and the South East” as he called for a clear timetable for HS3 linking Manchester Airport to other cities in the North.

Other MPs pointed out that hundreds of homes would be bulldozed as part of the government’s plans – but Grayling said the government was “not entering into this process with a view to changing our mind” despite the statutory consultation process now set to take place.

Ex-chancellor, Conservative Oliver Letwin, said Brexit meant it was important to build a third runway so that Britain would have better links to the East.

Eltham’s Labour MP Clive Efford, whose constituents live near the City Airport flightpath, said citizens were entitled to “roll their eyes” at the idea that pledges about environmental protection would be honoured.

He said: “Once expansion’s taken place, they show scant regard for the protections of the public, whether it’s the industry or government.”

But Grayling said compensation for the public and “amelioration” would have to be a binding part of the eventual agreement on Heathrow.

Tony Arbour, the chairman of the London Assembly, was quick to blast the project.

He said: “We are appalled that the government has decided to give the green light to expansion at Heathrow, despite the vast body of evidence to indicate this will expose Londoners to higher levels of deadly air pollution, intolerable noise and overwhelming congestion.

“Also, the need for investment in public transport access for passengers and staff will be substantial in order to keep London’s transport network working. The government has not yet provided nearly enough clarity on whether this investment will be delivered.

“The London Assembly has been opposed to Heathrow expansion since 2005 and we have carried out extensive work on the topic. Rest assured, we will continue to monitor air and noise pollution levels and other environmental impacts following today’s outcome.”

Assembly politician Caroline Russell, from the Green Party, said: “The decision to choose Heathrow as the preferred option, depending on the final vote next year, has offered temporary relief for the people living under the new flight paths but prolonged their anguish as they wait another twelve months to find out their fate.

“Imagine a motorbike zooming outside your front door from morning to night – this will be the new reality for West Londoners who will be blighted by more air pollution and intrusive noise because of this miserable decision.

“This is a two-pronged problem for west Londoners, as well as contending with noisy flights their local roads and public transport will be clogged with increased traffic, worsening their daily journeys and exacerbating air pollution.

“There’s no way expansion should even be on the table when air pollution in Heathrow already exceeds legal limits.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) said expanding Heathrow would enable the UK to be better connected to long haul destinations in growing world markets, boosting trade and creating jobs.

A new runway at Heathrow will bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion, the DfT estimates.

Grayling called the move “truly momentous” and added: “I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.”


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