Page last updated at 23:36 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

Brown issues cold weather gas and salt supply pledge

Snow has settled on houses surrounding this gasometer in  Bath
Supply for gas in the UK has reached record levels over the last week

Gordon Brown has pledged the UK's gas supplies will not run out during the current cold snap, and that road salt will get to "where it is most needed".

The PM acknowledged the "worrying and frustrating" situation but said agencies were working together to keep the public "safe and warm".

Meanwhile, National Grid also has issued its third 'balancing alert' in a week, aimed at adjusting gas supplies.

Police have confirmed two more weather-related deaths, taking the total to 26.

The cold weather is set to continue for the next few days at least, with more snow forecast overnight in some parts of the UK.

National Grid had already issued and lifted two "balancing alerts" warning of a potential shortfall in supplies.

These alerts help the market to consider increasing gas supplies, and encourage electricity providers to use alternative fuels such as coal.

A spokeswoman said the third alert, which is due to end at 0600GMT on Sunday, was not due to the weather conditions but problems in the Norwegian gas fields.

She said a shortfall of 35 million cubic metres (mcm) was predicted, out of the 441 mcm needed.

The spokeswoman said the market had already responded and supplies had come in from other sources.

Earlier Mr Brown said the distributor had confirmed it expected to meet demand.

Snow at Stonehenge

"Supplies are not running out," Mr Brown said in his podcast issued from Downing Street.

The prime minister added: "We've got plenty of gas in our own back yard - the North Sea - and we also have access to the large reserves in Norway and Netherlands via pipelines."

Charities have called for cold weather fuel payments to pensioners to be increased to prevent the death rate soaring.

The Red Cross has said it is having one of its busiest periods in 30 years as volunteers help the emergency services and provide assistance to people in need.

On Saturday, police confirmed a 90-year-old woman had frozen to death in her garden near Barnsley and a woman, 42, died after being found near shops in Newcastle.

Police are also searching for missing mountain-walker Steven Bailey, 51, from Ambleside, Cumbria. He was last seen on Tuesday in Windermere in the Lake District.

Kent Police have said the army is on stand-by should the weather get worse and advised people to stay at home unless it was necessary to go out.

BBC forecasters say freezing conditions will continue until at least Wednesday, and probably longer.

The forecast has led to fears there will not be enough salt to grit the roads, with local authorities agreeing to cut its use by 25% in a bid to preserve dwindling supplies.

The AA said it raised concerns about salt supplies with the Local Government Association (LGA) before Christmas.

Get the latest on school closures and travel problems via your BBC Local website
Check if snow is forecast in your area at BBC Weather
Details of motorway and local road closures and public transport disruption are available at BBC Travel News
For advice on handling difficult driving conditions, see the Highways Agency website
For information about severe weather warnings, see the Met Office website
For information about staying healthy in the current cold snap, see the NHS Winter Health website

AA spokesman Paul Watters told the BBC councils had reduced stocks by 250,000 tonnes during the past 10 years.

But the LGA stressed motorists were still be able to travel on major roads.

The prime minister said: "We are making sure stocks of salt to grit roads and pavements get to where they're most needed."

The prime minister also acknowledged businesses were suffering but added the government was "working closely" with the emergency services, and other relevant agencies to keep Britons "safe and warm".

The Highways Agency stopped treating motorway hard shoulders in England. Salt ordered from abroad is not due to arrive until 21 January.

But the agency's David Grunwell said the motorway and trunk road network was "running remarkably well" and that it had sufficient stocks for the conditions.

However, Conservatives say the decision to ration salt was "an admission of utter failure" and plans should have been made earlier.

Chemical firm Ineos said it had diverted 12,000 tonnes of white salt for use on Britain's roads after it was approached by several councils. The salt had been earmarked for food and chlorine production in Germany.

The amount represents about one fifth of the UK's daily use, before rationing was introduced.

The snow continued to fall, with parts of eastern England seeing between 2cm and 5cm (0.8in-2in) of snow on Saturday.

BBC weather forecaster Alex Deakin said up to 10cm (4in) could fall in the South East on Saturday night, in particular south and east of London.

Snow showers will move across England and Wales on Sunday, with falls of 2cm-5cm or 10cm on high ground, he added. Temperatures on Sunday should be around freezing.


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