Government favours plan to appease green lobby with UK's biggest train station

A £4.5bn rail hub could be built at Heathrow airport in an attempt to offset the environmental damage caused by a third runway and appease green campaigners.

Transport minister Lord Adonis told The Sunday Times the government was keen on proposals for an international rail terminal at the airport, which would reduce journey times from some British cities to the continent.

The Heathrow hub, which would be the country's biggest train station, was originally proposed by the Tories as an alternative to an extra airport capacity.

But the government, which is expected to approve plans for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow in the next two weeks, appears to eager to take on both projects.

Plans for a 12-platform station, drawn up by engineer Arup, have already been presented to the Department for Transport and include high-speed services to the continent and UK cities such as Leeds and Manchester.

Adonis said: “I think that it's an attractive idea. It's vital that we have an integrated approach to planning new rail capacity and any new airport capacity that's also required.”

He added: “It makes good sense to plan improvements to Heathrow and the rail system together.”

The Conservative party criticised the proposal as a “sweetener”, saying the hub should be an alternative to a third runway rather than an additional scheme.

London mayor Boris Johnson has promised to hold a public debate on the runway plan on 21 January.