Zac’s Speech on Heathrow

In Monday’s debate on Heathrow, the time was restricted by Government and Zac Goldsmith MP was given just 4 minutes to make the case against – before MPs were asked to vote for a third runway. Here is the transcript of the speech he would have given if he had been given the time to do so:


We have heard it all before, but it is important we acknowledge some of the human and environmental consequences of building a third runway.

Heathrow is already the noisiest airport in the developed world; a 3rd runway makes that problem much worse.

The Heathrow area has been in breach of air pollution laws for a decade; expansion means 250,000 more flights, 25 million more road passenger journeys, even more pollution.

A third runway means the destruction of old and entrenched communities; 783 homes will be destroyed to make way for it. That’s 783 families displaced – made to start again. 

And official forecasts tell us that Heathrow expansion is irreconcilable with the Climate Change Act.

They are just some of the consequences of the way we vote today, and the only reason why MPs would sign off on these costs is if they believed the economic upside justified it.

But much of what we’ve been told about the economic benefits is propaganda. And it’s not even very sophisticated propaganda.

Heathrow bosses must be laughing when they tell us expansion can deliver 250,000 more flights without any extra car journeys, or that a 3rd runway means fewer people will be impacted by noise.

I want to focus on that economic case.

The 2014 Airports Commission, on which the Government’s decision was based, estimated that Heathrow expansion would deliver £147 billion of total economic benefit.

The Government lapped it up. But then in last year’s draft NPS, they quietly revised the figure down to £72.8 – £74.2 billion; less than half the benefits

Today’s NPS uses the same figure, but admits it is a gross figure and does not include the actual economic and financial costs of the proposal. But it also gives the Net Present Value (NPV) – a metric which does include the costs and benefits – a range of just £2.9 billion to minus £2.5 billion over a 60-year period.

So the upside has gone from £147 billion, to minus £2.5 billion – and yet the Government’s appetite for pushing ahead with it hasn’t budged.

It gets worse.

A New Economics Foundation report shows that three quarters of any new capacity from a third runway will be taken up by international to international transfer passengers; people who never leave the airport.

The Department for Transport (DfT)’s own guidance says they add nothing whatsoever to the economy and shouldn’t be counted. If they are excluded – as the DfT recommends – the net Present Value reduces by a further £5.5bn.

DfT analysis also shows that an overrun in Heathrow’s costs of just 1% could be enough to negate the overall benefits of the scheme.

Meanwhile, none of this takes into account the £15b that Transport for London believe it will cost to adapt surface transport to link an expanded Heathrow up to the grid; a bill that the Government has made no provision for.

Nor does it take into account the legal and planning complexities that are unique to Heathrow. A gigantic legal challenge, backed by numerous Local Authorities, is waiting around the corner of this vote.

And this is what is so utterly perplexing: why would we choose the most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive, least deliverable option, when the alternative is at least as economically beneficial (and vastly simpler to deliver)?

And no – it’s not because Heathrow will deliver more connectivity. By every metric – in every analysis – Gatwick and Heathrow deliver the same. Even the discredited Airports Commission’s own analysis predicts that whichever airport expands, the UK as a whole will achieve almost identical connectivity.

None of this makes sense.

That is why people associated with campaigning against the third runway believe the Government’s decision making has been corrupted by its closeness to Heathrow.

It’s not just a conspiracy theory. The job swapping between H and Govt has been relentless. I remember lobbying the Infrastructure Minister about Heathrow, laying out all the arguments. His name was Lord Deighton. A few months later he’d left Govt and was the new Chairman of Heathrow.

What are those parents of kids with asthma – or the 800 families about to be turfed out of their homes by this House – supposed to think when they see this stink?

Which brings me to the National Policy Statement. It is a horror story

Thanks to eagle eyes of Justine Greening MP, we now know that the Government has agreed a deal with Heathrow that it will bail out any costs borne by the airport for expansion if the scheme does not proceed. So we are being asked to underwrite a private foreign-owned business to help it achieve an effective private sector monopoly, even though that means less competition, less choice for passengers, a greater concentration of growth in and around London – and all at the expense of regional airports and a balanced national economy.

And that takes me to my next point. The Secretary of State for Transport told the House that Heathrow expansion will ‘enable’ growth at Birmingham, Newquay, Aberdeen – and other regional airports.

That is nonsense.

The Government’s own modelling shows that other UK airports have a net loss of flights if Heathrow expands.

The Government’s analysis shows that Heathrow expansion hinders growth: It doesn’t ‘enable it’.

The Transport Select Committee found that if expansion goes ahead, there will be 74,000 fewer direct international flights per year to and from airports in the non-London regions in 2030. This increases to 162,000 by 2050.

Asked about Aberdeen, he said; “Absolutely….a better hub airport with more international connections is a particular benefit to industries such as his in Aberdeen.”

That is also nonsense. According to the Transport Select Committee Aberdeen will lose nearly 1,200 international flights a year by 2030 because of Heathrow expansion.

In response to a letter asking him to correct the record, he replied: “I stand by the statements I made and I am confident that the information I gave the House was appropriate.”

He added: “The government analysis shows that regional airports will continue to grow strongly with expansion at Heathrow.”

That is not the point. There may well be growth at regional airports. He must be aware that Government analysis shows it will be slower and less in Heathrow expands. It is a disgrace that he chose not to put the record straight.

We are being asked to approve the most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive, least deliverable option for solving our air capacity problem – even though the alternative is at least as economically beneficial and provides at least the same advantages.

It is a madness and I urge MPs to think again.