CONTROVERSIAL gas works in Newport city centre could finish earlier than planned.

News that Wales and West Utilities is "slightly ahead of schedule" was welcomed by the president of Newport Chamber of Trade Alan Edwards, whose predecessor Ken Ellis called for the work to be sped up.

The company said the delay was due to unforeseen difficulties but it now appears there could be light at the end of the tunnel in time for Christmas. It is understood the works are two weeks ahead of schedule.

Mr Edwards said: "I attended a meeting with the leader of the council and chief executive about a month ago and they said although initial work hit problems, phase two towards the market entrance that was going smoothly and they were hoping phase three would also be like that.

"It's very positive news. We hope if the work is finished early it will boost trade."

It was originally planned the work in High Street and Commercial Street was to be completed by September, an estimation that was revised to later in the autumn.

Despite the progress, the company says it is still working towards a completion date of December 21.

Melissa Cave, 29, owner of MC Dancewear in Newport Market, hopes it will be over before that.

"I know some customers are finding it difficult, paths in an out of the market change on a daily basis," she said.

Tony Turner, owner of AD Turner and Sons butchers in the market, said: "Things have certainly improved since the Argus and council have taken it up and come together with the gas company. There are more men on the job it seems."

Traders reported their worries to the Argus in September, claiming works were hitting already struggling businesses and fearing they would seriously hamper pre-Christmas trade.

A spokeswoman for Wales and West Utilities said the firm regretted the delay and traders have been kept informed.

She said the aim is always to minimise disruption and complete the work as quickly and safely as possible.

"Work on the scheme is being carried out in phases and at present our work is slightly ahead of schedule. Our target completion date is 21 December," she added.

Newport council did not wish to comment.