CHRIS Grayling, the under-fire Transport Secretary, has confirmed the UK Government’s controversial plan to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

After being considered and passed by the Cabinet’s Airports sub-committee, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May, it was then discussed this morning at the full Cabinet, which also give its approval.

An Airports National Policy Statement is also being published.

Mr Grayling told MPs Heathrow was a nationally significant freight hub. A third runway, he explained, would enable it to double its capacity.

READ MORE: All you need to know about the controversy over the third runway at Heathrow

The Secretary of State who yesterday came under fierce attack over the rail disruption in northern England, made clear in a Commons statement that the whole of the UK would benefit from the planned expansion and that regional connectivity, including to Scotland, was one of the key reasons for the Government plan to give Heathrow a third runway.

Mr Grayling also stressed how those communities around Heathrow, which will be affected by the increased traffic, would receive up to £2.6 billion in compensation.

This amount is 10 times bigger than that, which was first proposed in 2009.  

MPs are likely to vote on the Heathrow expansion issue within three weeks.

John Glen, the Treasury Minister, gave his backing to the plan for a third runway at Heathrow, saying: “This has gone on for a very long time. From the perspective of UK PLC we need to expand our capacity and this is the right thing to do."

He signalled that there would be an "understanding" with MPs whose constituencies would be impacted by a third runway such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who represents Uxbridge in north London.

Mr Glen told BBC Radio’s Today programme: "I imagine that there are understandings around constituency MPs who have specific interests. Obviously, constituency commitments would normally come first."

He said the issue of offering MPs a free vote was a matter for the chief whip.

READ MORE: All you need to know about the controversy over the third runway at Heathrow

But Justine Greening, the former Conservative Transport Secretary, insisted there should be a free vote and made clear that if the vote was whipped, she would defy the Government by voting against the third runway proposal.

“I have always been clear that I can't support this proposal going through Parliament, even if it's whipped. And indeed, the Prime Minister is very clear, this is not a party political issue. These are local MPs who need to represent our local communities.

"I do think that Parliament needs to be allowed to express its will and I don't think this should be a whipped vote,” said the Putney MP.

Asked about the Foreign Secretary's previous opposition to expansion, Ms Greening said: "For ministers involved in this, there has always been a special dispensation for them to be able to represent their local communities. That's always been very clear-cut.

"Boris has got a long-standing position on this, as I have, and I hope that he is allowed to represent his community and his views when the vote comes in to Parliament.

"In the past there have been assurances that this would be a free vote; I hope they're stuck to," added Ms Greening.

John Stewart, chairman of anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said: "This is a bad day for residents. Many communities will face a tsunami of noise if a third runway goes ahead.

"Many people who will be under new flights paths will find their lives changed forever.

"We will continue to oppose a new runway but, obviously, if it becomes inevitable we will fight for the best conditions possible for residents," he added.

Proponents of building a third runway at the major hub say it is the best option to increase capacity and boost the national economy while being cost-effective.

However, critics warn the plan is "expensive and complex" and bad for the environment - while one group hinted legal action may be taken against the Department for Transport over its "dodgy" handling of the process.

READ MORE: All you need to know about the controversy over the third runway at Heathrow

Alternative schemes include expanding Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

Any announcement in favour of a third runway is likely to be met with dismay by MPs from across the divide whose constituencies are already affected by Heathrow air traffic.

On Monday, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, whose Twickenham seat stands to be affected by expansion, branded the scheme "ill-conceived".

Meanwhile Extend the Runway, a group advocating increasing capacity by lengthening the airport's northern runway, said the Transport Department "lacks both expertise and attention to detail" and had not listened to its proposal.

"People should have zero confidence that the DfT have run a rigorous process on Heathrow's expensive and complex plan," the group said on Twitter.

The No Third Runway Coalition, which counts Sir Vince and Labour’s John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, among its members, said the department’s process had been "dodgy and has favoured Heathrow Airport Ltd from the start".

"That will be proven in court, if it comes to it," they added.

The Aviation Environment Federation said it was "extremely unlikely that the Government will have been able to find solutions to key challenges related to the environmental impacts of expansion".

READ MORE: All you need to know about the controversy over the third runway at Heathrow

The group said: "The Aviation Strategy, which is being taken forward under a separate process to the Heathrow NPS, will set out how the environmental impacts of aviation nationally should be tackled, but will not be consulted upon until later this year with publication of the final strategy not expected until the middle of next year.

"The decision on Heathrow is set to be taken, therefore, in the absence of any policy on how to tackle aviation's carbon emissions, so with no clarity on whether limits on aviation growth will be needed in order to meet climate change obligations."