Britain’s governing Conservative Party named Zac Goldsmith, an outspoken opponent of expanding London’s Heathrow airport, as its candidate to be the capital’s next mayor. He’ll face Labour’s Sadiq Khan in May’s election.
Goldsmith, 40, was selected ahead of three other candidates, taking 70 percent of the primary vote, the Conservative Party said in an e-mailed statement Friday. Boris Johnson, who’s held the mayoralty for the Conservatives since 2008, will step down next year after he won a seat in the U.K. Parliament in May.
Bookmakers make Khan the slight favorite to win the election for Europe’s largest city. The Labour candidate told his party’s annual conference on Wednesday that he intends to make the mayoral contest “a referendum on the housing crisis” that’s seen soaring house prices and rents in London and “stand up to big property developers.”
Whoever is elected will govern a metropolis of 8.5 million people accounting for almost a quarter of the U.K. economy, giving him the biggest personal mandate in British politics. The mayor oversees an annual budget of about 11 billion pounds ($17 billion), with powers over transport, policing and the fire service.
In a statement, Goldsmith pledged to work “tirelessly” and said housing is the biggest challenge facing the capital. “Londoners are being priced out of their city and we will need a step change in the number of homes built, and the manner in which they are built,” he said.
The selection of Goldsmith means that the split within the Conservatives over whether to build a third runway at Heathrow to ease airport congestion in the southeast won’t be going away.
Goldsmith’s electoral district lies right under the Heathrow flightpath, and he’s threatened in the past to resign his seat and force a by-election if Prime Minister David Cameron accepts a recommendation by a government-appointed commission to expand the airport. Khan also opposes a new runway at Heathrow and says he backs a second runway at Gatwick, south of the city.
The British Chambers of Commerce said businesses will be “alarmed” that both candidates oppose developing Heathrow. “It is depressing, as the need for expansion at Heathrow and other key airports grows more pressing and more obvious by the day,” Director General John Longworth said in a statement.
Heathrow said it will work with whoever is elected “to help keep London as a global aviation hub and the center of the world economy.” Expanding the airport will secure 180,000 jobs and 211 billion pounds of economic growth spread across the country, it said.
Johnson has been pushing his own plan for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is among proponents of an extra Heathrow runway. Cameron, who opposed expanding Heathrow before he came to power in 2010, has pledged a decision by the end of the year.
Goldsmith is an environmental campaigner who’s represented Richmond Park in southwest London in the House of Commons since 2010. He’s the son of James Goldsmith, the late billionaire financier who was the founder of a euroskeptic movement in the 1990s. Goldsmith has a personal fortune of 75 million pounds, according to the latest annual Sunday Times Rich List.
Heathrow “is already the biggest noise polluter in Europe, and an expanded Heathrow would affect over a million Londoners,” Goldsmith wrote on his blog in July. “We need a super-competitive network, with our three main airports competing properly for customers.”