Heathrow, Brexit, and the future of Kingston Hospital were all on the agenda as candidates for the Richmond and north Kingston by-election clashed in a fierce debate ahead of next week’s vote.

The two frontrunners – independent Zac Goldsmith and Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney – faced tough questions from residents as they made last-ditch appeals to voters at a debate at Tiffin School yesterday.

Mr Goldsmith was grilled on his record in Parliament and his controversial mayoral campaign, while Ms Olney was questioned on her lack of experience and her husband’s history with Heathrow.

AS IT HAPPENED: Richmond Park and north Kingston by-election candidates Zac Goldsmith and Sarah Olney meet for Heathrow debate

The independent candidate opened his case with an impassioned claim that building a third runway could still be stopped, despite the Government’s announcement last month.

He said: “The case against Heathrow expansion is stronger and stronger by the day."

"The economic case for expanding Heathrow has collapsed. Expansion can and must be stopped and as your future MP I would ensure that the fight would continue.”

The two candidates soon clashed over Heathrow expansion, with the former Tory MP accusing Lib Dem supporters of heckling during a recent rally in Richmond Green and putting “half of Brazil’s rainforest” in pamphlets through residents’ letterboxes.

He also blamed senior Lib Dems such as former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for ‘dropping the ball’ by launching the Davies’ Commission while in Parliament – a report which when published recommended Heathrow for expansion.

Surrey Comet:

Zac Goldsmith opens his case

Ms Olney said: “You only allowed people to speak who had a ‘vote Zac’ sticker on [at the rally].

“[Expansion] would have happened in the Coalition if it hadn’t been for the Liberal Democrats commissioning the Davies’ Report.

“We’re hugely disappointed that an officially independent report has such a pro-Heathrow stance. We must continue the fight.”

She also shrugged off criticisms of her husband’s role in building Terminal 5 at Heathrow almost a decade ago.

Ms Olney, who works as an accountant in Teddington, said: “My husband worked on Terminal 5 ten years ago, I don't see how it was relevant to mention

“I really don’t see why it’s relevant what job my husband does.”

Mr Goldsmith was soon forced to defend his controversial mayoral campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Khan, which one audience member claimed was “racist” and “compromised” his suitability as an MP.

Particular attention was drawn to an article published in the Mail on Sunday - written by Zac Goldsmith - which contained an image of a destroyed London bus following the 7/7 bombings, which he admitted was “totally inappropriate”.

He said: “I know that I lost control of the debate about two months from the election.

 "I regret that the characterisation of my campaign was wrong, that was nevertheless what happened at the end of my campaign.

 "Complaining about that now would be like peeing into the wind.”

Surrey Comet:

Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney 

The two favourites were joined by Labour candidate Christian Wolmar and the Christian Peoples Alliance’s Dominick Stockford.

Mr Wolmar criticised both candidates, saying that Mr Goldsmith would fail to influence the Government as an independent and that Labour can exert more influence than the liberal Democrats.

He said: “Why not ask Sarah to stand down? On the doorstep I'm finding a lot of support and winning a lot of people over."

The 'Zac party' will get ignored by everybody. He'll be in a little party of one. I would be in a party of more than 200.”

Brexit soon took centre stage as Ms Olney proclaimed leaving the EU was what residents “really want to talk about”.

She reiterated her claim she would vote against triggering Article 50 and claimed the High Court decision for a Parliament vote on the referendum result as was a “ray of hope” for Remainers.

More than 70 per cent of residents in Richmond Park and north Kingston voted to stay in the EU.

Both candidates pledged support for Kingston Hospital amid concerns raised the hospital could lose acute beds when NHS England announces a series of cuts across the country next year.