asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his current estimate of the cost of closing down the Northern Ireland gas industry.
I cannot provide a useful estimate until I know what the Belfast gas undertaking and those undertakings which are supplied by it—together accounting for 80 per cent. of gas supplied in Northern Ireland—intend to do. I hope to arrange an early meeting with the Belfast council to review the situation in the knowledge that the city's gas undertaking is incurring heavy losses and that, as I reaffirmed in a public statement on 15 February, natural gas would not provide an economic solution.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the closure of the Northern Ireland gas industry indicating the action which has already been taken to ensure that it is done in a safe, efficient and economical manner.
Of the 13 gas undertakings in Northern Ireland, two have indicated their intention of continuing a supply of town gas, while eight have decided to close. Belfast, together with Newtownards and Bangor, which take their gas supplies from the city's gas department, have yet to reach a decision. The Government are concerned that the closures should be orderly and have therefore asked those undertakings which are to close to submit their proposals for the timing and phasing of rundown in order that detailed plans can be agreed, tailored to the specific circumstances of each concern. Detailed plans for one undertaking are at an advanced stage of preparation and substantial progress has been made with another. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been closely involved in the planning process and is already strengthening the technical resources required for the task of converting gas appliances in its properties. The Department of Commerce has also had discussions with suppliers of alternative fuels, all of whom stand ready to put whatever resources are necessary into the situation. Should other undertakings indicate their intention to close, the same consultative process will be followed urgently with them.