NORTHUMBRIAN Water this morning agreed to a £2.4 billion takeover by a Hong Kong-based investment firm.
Shareholders in Northumbrian, which supplies 2.6 million people across the North-east and 1.8 million through Essex & Suffolk Water, will receive 465p per share from a consortium of companies headed by Cheung Kong Infrastructure (CKI), the firm controlled by Asian billionaire Li Ka-shing.
The utilities firm run by CEO Heidi Mottram, which has a £33m waste-to-energy treatment facility at Bran Sands, had been the subject of buy-out talks for several months.
The deal will raise concerns among consumers that control over prices is moving out of the region and could be affected even more by international fluctuations.
CKI already has extensive utility assets in the UK including electricity distributor UK Power Networks, gas distributor Northern Gas Networks and stakes in Southern Water and generator Seabank Power.
The Hong Kong company has agreed to sell Cambridge Water to HSBC as part of the deal to avoid competition issues.
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which owns nearly 27% of Northumbrian, has agreed to accept the takeover offer.
CKI director HL Kam said: “Northumbrian has an excellent reputation in the UK water sector. We attach great importance to the skills and experience of the existing management and employees”.
CKI is the largest listed infrastructure company in Hong Kong, while consortium partner CKH is one of the largest residential and commercial property developers and owns a near 50% stake in conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa.
Last year Cheung chairman Li Ka-shing was named by Forbes magazine as Hong Kong's richest person with a net worth of $21.3billion.
The UK’s infrastructure sector has proved irresistible to overseas buyers in recent years with more than a third of the country’s assets now under foreign ownership.
In the last 10 years, Ferrovial of Spain has bought Heathrow owner BAA, Germany’s RWE bought power supplier Npower and Australian bank Macquarie bought Thames Water.
Car parks group NCP and ports company P&O was also recently snapped up by Dubai-based DP World.