It was an urgent job, we were told last December. Town centre gas pipes are old and are becoming dangerous. So urgent, the work would have to commence in April. When National Grid Gas missed that date, it announced that it would dig up King Street and High Street in July – a decision that was met with a volley of protests from councillors, the town council and traders. When Shropshire Council said “no”, National Grid proposed doing the work from mid-September to November. That’s still a busy season and after more lobbying, the company agreed to move the works back to January 2016.
Today the company announced that is not going to do most of the work it was planning at all. National Grid Gas says:
“The primary reason that iron pipes are identified for replacement is due to the risk score. Other than the short section in Old Street, none of the remaining pipes currently have a risk score that is significant enough to consider replacement during our current formula review period, which currently runs until the end of March 2021. Due to the amount of work that has gone into liaising with stakeholders, if the other pipes had sufficient risk score that would have resulted in them being scheduled for replacement prior to the end of the review period, we would have done this commencing January as planned.”
The changes to risk score assessment have been agreed with the gas regulator and the Health and Safety Executive.
I am confident that National Grid Gas would do nothing to risk public safety but this does sound like a cost cutting exercise to me. If fewer repairs are required, then the company will be more profitable. That’s a timely bonus for National Grid at a point when it has decided to sell off its gas distribution business.
Work on pipes on Old Street at the junction of St Johns Lane will go ahead within the financial year 2016/2017. Shropshire Council is asking NGG to look at a quieter period to carry out this work, avoiding festivals and tourist peak seasons. Temporary traffic lights will be used to control traffic.
There is still a risk of the town centre roads being dug up early next year. Western Power were planning to schedule works in the Bull Ring to coincide with the gas main works. Shropshire Council has asked the company what its current plans are.
It is good news our town is not going to be disrupted unnecessarily. It is nevertheless utterly frustrating and something of a farce that after months of discussions on timing, the mains replacement work turns out to be unnecessary.