A third runway is to be built at Heathrow, the government has decided, paving the way for hundreds of thousands more flights a year at the airport in west London.
In a long-awaited response, ministers have endorsed the recommendation of the Airports Commission to expand Heathrow rather than Gatwick airport, which had hoped to build a second runway.
The move comes six years after the Conservative-led coalition scrapped previous plans for a third runway at Heathrow.
The Department for Transport said: “In a major boost for the UK economy the government today announced its support for a new runway at Heathrow – the first full-length runway in the south-east since the second world war.”
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “The step that government is taking today is truly momentous. I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.”
The government said it would propose a six-and-a-half-hour ban on scheduled night flights, and will make more stringent night noise restrictions a requirement of expansion. It will also propose new legally binding noise targets.
The government confirmed the scheme would be taken forward in the form of a draft national policy statement, which will be consulted on in the new year.
It said it underlined its commitment to keeping the UK open for business and as a hub for tourism and trade, adding that a new runway at Heathrow would bring economic benefits worth up to £61bn, as well as creating up to 77,000 additional local jobs.
The decision to expand Heathrow will be voted on by parliament in 2017 or 2018. Under the airport’s proposed scheme, an additional runway and a sixth terminal will be built to the north-west of the existing airport perimeter at a cost of £17.6bn. The nearby village of Harmondsworth will be demolished.
Widespread protests and legal challenges are expected to follow Tuesday’s decision, with campaigners expected to focus on air quality, noise and Britain’s climate change commitments. The runway, which could be built by 2025, would lead to almost 50% more planes over London, bringing new neighbourhoods under the flightpath.
It is understood Justine Greening, the education secretary, will restate her opposition to Heathrow expansion in a statement for constituents later on Tuesday afternoon. She is not expected to give any broadcast or press interviews.
Under the terms of Theresa May’s limited suspension of collective responsibility, Greening will be able to continue expressing her discontent with the decision without actively campaigning against it.
As he left the cabinet meeting, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said “yes” when reporters in Downing Street asked if he would continue to oppose Heathrow’s expansion.
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, said he would honour his threat to resign and trigger a byelection in his seat, the local Conservative association has confirmed.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat former business secretary who lost his south-west London seat last year, said it was a bad decision with questions still remaining about how the surrounding infrastructure could be paid for.
Cable said he would be “happy to stand again” in Twickenham, which will be affected by a new airport, if May calls an early election. Tania Mathias, the Tory MP who won the seat from Cable, said she would continue to fight on in parliament against Heathrow, saying she believed the case for it would collapse during the public consultation.
“If the decision is Heathrow, I do not think they can get through the public consultation and scrutiny,” she said. “I think it will mark the beginning of the end for any expansion to Heathrow.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, accused the government of “running roughshod over Londoners’ views”, saying he had been elected on a clear platform of opposing a new runway at Heathrow. He said: “A new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London – air pollution around the airport is already above legal levels of NO2.
“Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid combined. A third runway would mean an extra 200,000 people impacted, exposing 124 more schools and 43,200 more schoolchildren to an unacceptable level of noise.”
John Stewart, one of the leading campaigners against a third runway, said the decision had been made with “legal conditions” that the airport would have to meet.
Stewart, chair of the campaign group Hacan, said: “Countless residents will be dismayed and distraught by this decision. Some will lose their homes. Some face the daunting prospect of living under a noisy flight path for the first time. And many others will get yet more planes over their heads. But real doubts must remain whether this new runway will ever see the light of day. The hurdles it faces remain: costs, noise, air pollution and widespread opposition including an expected legal challenge from the local authorities.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We welcome the news that Heathrow is government’s preferred site for a new runway and look forward to hearing the full details later from the transport secretary.
“Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all of the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy. We await the full details, but Heathrow stands ready to work with government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK.”
The government stipulated that the third runway “must be delivered without hitting passengers in the pocket”. Although charges to airlines are expected to rise substantially at an expanded Heathrow, the government said that the Airports Commission and CAA were clear that keeping fares steady was achievable.
Airlines said the cost of expansion would be crucial. Airline trade body BATA said: “We will be scrutinising this decision and future, more detailed, plans. Heathrow is the most expensive hub airport in the world – and airports are not funded by the taxpayer but by passengers. Today’s passengers must not pay for capacity that will not be operational until the mid-2020s.”
“We have had to wait a long time for this. We recognise it won’t be an easy journey. We urge the government to have the courage of their convictions and press ahead so that the timetable to deliver the additional capacity by 2030 can be delivered.”
But Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said: “The decision to expand Heathrow tramples over the concerns of local people and puts a wrecking ball through the government’s claim to be concerned about climate change. The truth is that the government went into this process with their eyes shut to the only sensible option: stopping airport expansion.”
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said it was “madness”. Ralph Smyth of the CPRE said: “The north-south divide has been increasing: by giving the go ahead to yet another runway in the south the Prime Minister has effectively pulled the rug on her own flagship policy of rebalancing our nation’s economy.
“It’s madness to be promoting domestic flights at the same time as investing in alternatives like high speed rail.”