Wales and West Utilities bought by Hong Kong consortium

Gas ring WWU runs the gas distribution network in Wales and south west England

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A Newport-based utilities firm is being taken over by a Hong Kong consortium in a deal said to be worth £645m (US$1bn).

Wales and West Utilities (WWU), the main gas distribution company for Wales and the west of England, employs 450 at its head office and 1,100 engineers.

A consortium led by billionaire Li Ka-shing is buying the firm from its current owners, who are led by the Australian group Macquarie.

WWU said customers and consumers would see "no change" in services.

'Business as usual'

The company - formerly part of National Grid Transco - was launched in June 2005 with around 35,000 km (21,750 miles) of gas distribution pipelines covering Wales and south west of England.

The firm serves an area representing one sixth of the UK with a population of 7.4m.

The sale of WWU was announced on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

The buying consortium is led by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited (CKI).

HL Kam, CKI group managing director, said: "We are delighted to acquire another high quality asset and a company which is a clear leader in its respective sector."

The new owners said there would be no change to the management or the focus of WWU's activities and that it would be "business as usual".

Graham Edwards, WWU chief executive, said: "Neither our customers nor our consumers will see any changes and we will continue our focus and our sector-leading performance to deliver excellent customer service both in Wales and in the south west of England."

It is the latest in a series of utility business purchases by CKI.

The company previously bought Northumbrian Water and the UK electricity networks of energy firm EDF.

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