The Conservatives will not build a third runway at Heathrow airport – so cutting 66,000 flights a year – but will instead work with the private sector to build a £20bn, 180mph rail link between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

There would also be a high speed link between King’s Cross St Pancras and Heathrow airport – (although Boris Johnson may have moved London’s airport to the Thames estuary by then!).

Theresa Villiers, Shadow Transport Secretary, told The Guardian that the move was "seriously green".

10am: Extracts from Theresa Villiers’ speech:

"So often in this nation’s history, new transport links have helped push forward progress and prosperity.

In the 19th century it was the steam locomotive.

In the 20th, it was our motorways and airports.

In today’s world, I believe it can be high speed rail.

Earlier this year, the UK’s first 68 mile stretch of high speed rail opened from the Channel Tunnel.

That’s great – but it’s thirty years behind France.

By 2020, the European high speed network will have reached 15,000km …..

…… linking major cities as far away as Sweden, Italy and Poland.

Well I believe the time has come for us to start catching up

…. to lay the foundations for a high speed future for Britain.

The benefits are clear.

Firstly, high speed rail could relieve nightmare levels of over-crowding by freeing up space for more commuter services on existing lines ….

…. alongside more paths for freight, taking hundreds of lorries off our congested roads.

Secondly, it could generate huge economic benefits….

…. a full high speed network could add £60 billion to the UK’s wealth, with £5.2 billion for Birmingham alone.

Thirdly, high speed rail could help heal long standing divisions in our economy by shrinking the distance between north and south.

It could do so much to close the north-south divide …

….. with the twin benefits of relieving pressure on land and housing in the south east….

… and bringing more jobs and prosperity to our northern towns and cities.

And, of course, high speed rail delivers for the environment as well.

The latest generation of high speed trains emit 50 times less carbon than cars and 70 times less than flying.

High speed rail could take thousands of car journeys off our roads.

With a choice between a train from Manchester to London in an hour and a quarter and sitting in traffic on the M1 and the M6, I know which I’d choose.

And, ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that high speed rail could transform the debate on Heathrow.

Evidence from right around Europe clearly shows that high speed rail provides a viable and attractive alternative to short haul flights.

A high speed link from St Pancras to Heathrow, connecting to the north, could replace up to 66,500 flights a year.

That would free up almost a third of the capacity that would be provided if a third runway were built.

A national high speed network could provide around 44% of that capacity with the potential to rise much further as the European network improves and expands.

And it could deliver this without the environmental penalties of a third runway.

And be in no doubt, those penalties are considerable.

Thousands more people living with aircraft noise in areas as far apart as Windsor and Brixton.

Real health damage to children with asthma in the areas around the airport ….

….. and the risk, in the words of the Government’s own environment advisers …. of, quote, “increased morbidity and

And being realistic ….. the 222,000 more flights a third runway would involve …. the equivalent of bolting on to Heathrow a new airport the size of Gatwick …. would make it much harder to meet the demanding targets our nation has set itself for tackling climate change.

Add to this, the fact that the economic arguments in favour of expansion have never seriously considered the alternative ways to relieve over-crowding at Heathrow ….

…. and the path to take becomes obvious.

This is one of the hardest decisions we’ve faced as a party and we will not run away from it.

That’s why I can announce this morning that a Conservative Government would say no to a third runway at Heathrow …..

Instead we would give the go ahead for the next phase of high speed rail in the UK ….

….. a new line between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

That would mean Birmingham to London in 45 minutes and Leeds to London in less than the time you’ll take listening to this debate.

We’d target construction to begin in 2015 with full completion by 2027.

Yes, this is a long term project.

Yes, these are very difficult economic times.

But this country can no longer put off the decisions necessary to deliver the transport improvements we desperately need,

…… decisions that Labour have shown themselves so manifestly incapable of taking.’

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