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Kingfisher pays pounds 51m for Norweb Retail

Kingfisher yesterday moved to expand its Comet chain of electrical superstores when it agreed to pay pounds 51m for Norweb Retail, part of United Utilities. But the deal immediately sparked controversy when union officials said the deal could involve up to 1,000 job losses.

Under the terms of the deal Kingfisher will close Norweb's 57 high street shops, its head office in Bolton and a distribution centre in Worsley. It is also expected that Kingfisher will close up to half of Norweb's 81 out-of-town superstores due to overlap with existing branches of Comet.

Stephanie Golden, national retail officer of Unison, criticised United Utilities for breaking the news to workers on the same day as organising a separate pre-Budget cocktail party.

"This is a devastating announcement for our members and for Norweb's retail customers," she said. The decision to close the high street network would hit the elderly and the poor as well as those without their own transport.

Kingfisher said Norweb had intended to close the high street stores anyway as they were loss-making. All the Norweb stores will trade until after Christmas pending a review, which will be completed in February.

Comet currently has 224 stores and has been keen to expand its out-of- town presence Buying existing outlets helps get round tougher planning guidelines on out-of-town stores. The Norweb stores will be re-branded under the Comet name. The majority are in the North-west.