UK cracks up in the big freeze

ARCTIC conditions intensified yesterday as the UK faced its coldest night of the winter so far with the temperature dropping as low as –5C in central London as the worst cold snap to hit the country for thirty years continued.

More travel chaos for commuters was predicted amid the freezing temperatures, with the Met Office issuing UK-wide severe weather warnings of ice for today, and forecasting the freeze would continue for another two weeks.

The warnings come after record gas demand forced the National Grid yesterday to cut the supply to 94 companies in the North West and East Midlands shortly after issuing its second warning in three days that the system was running out of gas. The National Grid estimated usage would reach 455.3m cubic metres, over a third more than normal seasonal demand, and trouncing the current record of 449m cubic metres, set on 7 January 2003.

The cut prompted immediate criticism of the UK’s dependency on imports, which has intensified due to its dwindling North Sea gas fields, forcing the government to import fuel from as far afield as Qatar to keep out the chill.

Energy analyst, David Hunter, at McKinnon and Clarke said this latest warning put the spotlight on the UK’s precarious energy position. “If the UK had sufficient storage, these supply issues wouldn’t cause such shockwaves, but the government’s failure to secure supply means that homes and businesses will be justifiably apprehensive about the country’s ability to meet its gas needs as temperatures plummet. The government must learn lessons from this and drag our infrastructure into the 21st century – and fast,” he said.

The situation was intensified by a “technical glitch” forcing Norway’s largest gas producer, Statoil ASA, one of the UK’s largest suppliers, to halt output at its offshore Troll gas fields and consequently supplies to the UK via the Langeled pipeline.

And the weather yesterday continued to affect roads, rail services and airports. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, including more than 130 at Gatwick. Delays were expected to continue today due to the bad weather.

Meanwhile, Eurostar, which suspended services for three days before Christmas, said it would run only a limited service today after a Eurostar train broke down in the Channel tunnel.

And the government was yesterday forced to draw up rationing plans as councils ran out of supplies to grit roads. The Salt Union warned it had just a few days’ supply of surface salt left.

Elsewhere, power supply disruptions continued, with an estimated 970 homes without electricity in East Finchley, north London. EDF blamed a fault with an underground cable.