Conservative Zac Goldsmith has resigned as an MP over the Government’s backing for a new runway at Heathrow, while local politicians including London’s mayor have said they are considering challenging the decision in the courts.
Making a statement in his constituency of Richmond Park and North Kingston, Mr Goldsmith pointed out that former prime minister David Cameron had given a ‘no ifs, no buts’ commitment when leader of the opposition that his party would not allow Heathrow expansion.
Former Tory MP Zac Goldsmith in happier days
Mr Goldsmith had himself promised to resign as an MP if his party changed its position and said on Tuesday (25 October) that he was honouring his promise and would trigger a by-election in which he will stand as an independent candidate.
He said that the decision to support a new runway at Heathrow, subject to a year-long consultation, was ‘not the end’ and said ministers had chosen ‘the most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive option’ as well as ‘the option with the least chance of being delivered'.
He said: 'The sheer complexity, cost and legal difficulties mean it is unlikely ever to happen.'
Among his reasons for opposing expansion of the west London airport, Mr Goldsmith said it was already breaching pollution limits and cited the expectation that expansion would bring one million more people within its noise footprint. He added that the surface transport costs of getting extra passengers to the airport could be up to £20bn.
The Conservative council of Windsor and Maidenhead, where prime minister Theresa May has her constituency, also expressed its disappointment in the decision and reaffirmed its willingness to take legal action to ‘protect’ its residents.
Council leader Simon Dudley said: ‘Our campaign against Heathrow expansion with councils in Hillingdon, Richmond and Wandsworth and Greenpeace continues and we will take whatever action is necessary to stop this decision on behalf of the one million residents we represent.’
A council spokesperson was reluctant to give details of the grounds for a possible challenge. However, a report put to councillors earlier this month said: ‘Essentially, the argument is that expansion at Heathrow should be ruled out once and for all because that is what was promised by David Cameron and because Heathrow expansion would have unacceptable environmental impact.’
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who supports expanding Gatwick, said it was ‘the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain’.
He added: ‘I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months.’
Tony Arbour, chairman of the London Assembly, 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.'