Transport secretary Geoff Hoon today approved a package of national transport improvements centred around Heathrow airport.
The plans will secure Heathrow's future as the major hub airport in Europe, but opponents of the scheme have been scathing in their condemnation, saying the environmental cost of the third runway is too high.
The new runway will complete between 2015 and 2020, but the number of flights using the runway will be limited to 125,000 per year, substantially less than 222,000 initially proposed, and with a: "Green slot principle with most modern aircraft," for those using the new runway.
Hoon said: "To do nothing will damage our economy, and will have no impact whatsoever on climate change," and that environmental targets would be met by 2020 with or without the new runway.
He added that environmental concerns must be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority when air quality targets have been met, and that additional aircraft will not "compromise the legal air quality and noise limits."
Hoon said new aircraft have lower noise and fewer emissions that older craft. Once in use, the Environment Agency will police the environmental impact of the new runway.
Hoon said he would establish a new company: "High Speed 2 – to consider the case for new high speed rail services from London to Scotland. As a first stage we have asked the company to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the West Midlands, which would enable faster journeys to other destinations in the North of England and Scotland using both existing lines and a new high speed rail network.
"Our experience with Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has demonstrated that advance detailed planning is required to progress such major infrastructure schemes.
"I see a strong case for this new line approaching London via a Heathrow International hub station on the Great Western line, to provide a direct four way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail into the centre of London," he said.
"My intention is that, by the end of this year the company will have advised us on the most promising route or routes, with their individual costs and benefits."
Hoon's hub is likely to be based on the Arup-designed Heathrow 'Hub' which will give the airport a dedicated high speed rail link to Europe, and spare capacity for high speed routed north.
Shadow transport secreatry Theresa Villiers said: "A third runway at Heathrow would be an environmental disaster and will prove that you cannot trust a word Gordon Brown says on climate change and pollution.
"It will be a bleak day for Labour's environmental credentials and for the many Labour MPs who have spoken out against Gordon Brown's blinkered and foolish approach to airport expansion."
Villiers announced Conservative party plans for Heathrow in the autumn. She rejecting any new runway but also backed the Hub, pledging to invest in high speed rail lines north.
Hoon also announced: "A programme of up to £6bn which includes applying [hard shoulder running] techniques to some of the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6, M62, the M3 and M4 approaching London, and the motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol."