In a remarkably frank interview, Zac Goldsmith was critical of the government on several fronts and gave a personal insight into the way the government operates. He said:
• George Osborne’s anti-green rhetoric was damaging investor confidence in the green economy and investors were “very worried”.
• He had been “sacked” just two hours before he was due to take up the position of Cameron’s climate change emissary because he voted against the government on an EU referendum.
• He had made it clear to party whips and colleagues that he was not interested in a ministerial role because he was not prepared to be “lobotomised”.
• He would resign as an MP and trigger a byelection if the government reneged on its promise not to expand Heathrow airport, which would be a “betrayal”.
• Pro-development changes to the planning system, a revised version of which is due to be published on Monday, were disastrous.
There is a battle within the Tory party and within the coalition over climate change,” he said. “I think there is a problem in government … I know it is a problem in the Treasury. Environmental policy is seen as a cost, something that will put the brakes on.
“The biggest thing where we are getting it wrong is not the policies but the language. It causes uncertainty. The biggest risk for investors in this area is political change … If I was an investor in this area of low-carbon growth I would be very worried.”
Goldsmith said the pro-development planning reforms due to be published on Monday were “another area where we got it very wrong”. He pointed out that 31,000 hectares of brownfield land were available for development and 240,000 plots for homes in the south-east existed with planning permission in place. The problem was not the planning system – although he accepted it was “clunky and bureaucratic” – but other issues, such as finance.
“You don’t resolve it by just chucking it in the bin and saying to the big operators: ‘Go for it’.”