Hastings buys Northern Ireland’s largest gas distributor

The seller was private equity firm Terra Firma, for a reported £700m.

Private equity stalwart Terra Firma has clinched the sale of Phoenix Natural Gas Limited – Northern Ireland’s largest gas distribution network – in a deal involving Hastings Funds Management (Hastings). 

The Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA) – a fund managed by Hastings – and The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group Pension Fund – for which Hastings manages an unlisted mandate – bought the company for between £600 million (€695 million; $922 million) and £650 million, according to sources familiar with the deal. UTA and the RBS Group Pension Fund are said to have split the equity contribution 50/50.

Hastings did not disclose the acquisition price and could not be reached for comment at press time. 

“Since we bought the company in 2005, Phoenix has doubled in size and has increased gas availability to 300,000 properties, of which some 165,000 have already connected to the network,” Terra Firma chairman Guy Hands commented in a statement. 

Phoenix operates the Greater Belfast natural gas network and is responsible for making gas available to about half of Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million population. 

In May, the A$3.3 billion (€2.6 billion; $3.4 billion) Utilities Trust of Australia fund named Colin Atkin as chief executive to replace Richard Hoskins, who went on to become Hastings’ head of global asset management, a newly created role. 

Atkin was previously chief executive of the Hastings Diversified Utilities Fund, which was sold to Australian natural gas infrastructure business APA Group in October last year. 

As at June 30, Hastings had A$7.2 billion in funds under management across a portfolio made up mainly of utilities, airports, toll roads and ports in Australia, UK, continental Europe and the US. Established in 1994, Hastings was one of Australia’s first infrastructure fund managers.