British Transport Minister Geoff Hoon announced the approval for Heathrow’s third runway today, citing clear economic benefits to the UK as being the key reason behind the controversial decision.

The construction of the runway, which is likely to commence in 2015, will increase the number of flights going to and from the airport from the current 480,000 a year to 702,000 by 2030.

Hoon made it clear that despite concern from residents and environmentalists, if the UK did not increase capacity at its biggest airport the health of the economy would be in danger along with the country’s status as a major hub and destination.

“Heathrow is vital to our economy. It connects us to the growth markets of the future such as Beijing and Mumbai, which are essential for every great trading nation,” Hoon said.

“Increasing demand, however, has meant that for too long the airport has operated at full capacity, causing it to lose ground to international hub airports in other countries,’ he said. ‘This third runway will ensure that Britain remains a place where the world can come do business.”

British Airways chief Willie Walsh applauded the decision saying that in lieu of the financial recession, building the third runway was the right for the economy.

“Increasing capacity is essential and building a third runway is the most efficient and reasonably priced method of doing this in the shortest time possible,” Walsh said.

The construction of the third runway has received fiery opposition from environmentalists concerned that emissions from ensuing traffic would surpass EU limits. Nearby residents, who stand to lose 700 homes, have also protested against the runway.

Hoon said the government’s support for the runway and additional terminal facilities were on condition that communities will be compensated and that strict environmental criteria, which includes reducing UK aviation emissions below 2005 levels by 2050, will be met.

“We have demonstrated our determination to mitigate the effects of the airport on those who live nearby by placing priority on cleaner, quieter aircraft and by ensuring that the strict environmental targets are met on the basis of independent assessment and enforcement,” Hoon said.

A cap of 125,000 flights a year has also been placed on the runway to limit excessive traffic.

The minister said he had rejected making the runway ‘mixed mode’, which would allow both incoming and outgoing flights, to avoid increasing volume intensity.

The Department of Transport also announced plans to increase capacity on the nation’s road and rail networks to support the Heathrow decision.

Up to £6bn will be spent on providing an extra 520 miles of road, through widening and by introducing hard shoulder running along the entire core motorway network.

The department will also be forming a new company, called High Speed 2, to consider the case for a high-speed rail service between London and Scotland – the first part of which will connect Heathrow to Crossrail via a London and West Midlands international interchange.

By Daniel Garrun.