Forecourts on the front line as fuel shortages bite in Norfolk
- Credit: Chris Bishop
Motorists are facing difficulties finding fuel at many Norfolk garages. CHRIS BISHOP went along to one service station to find out more about the problems... and when they might be resolved
Every now and then, a car slows down and indicates to pull onto the Collins family's filling station.
But when they see the row of zeroes on the sign, they just carry on up the coast road hoping to find fuel soon.
Diesel pumps ran dry five days ago at Parkside Garage, on the A148 at Thursford north of Fakenham. Petrol followed suit not long after the filling station opened on Tuesday morning.
The station is one of many across the region to report shortages, which are blamed on environmental campaigners blockading several oil refineries and terminals.
John Collins, head of the family-run business he started with his wife Lynda in 1971 and son Andrew have been pressing their wholesaler for an answer with regard to when a tanker might arrive to refill their tanks since Sunday.
Three days later, they are none the wiser - despite police saying they have now cleared the demonstrators who have been blocking oil facilities.
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"There's a lack of communication coming from all the fuel companies," said Mr Collins Jnr. "It's getting serious now.
"People can't get to hospital, there are deliveries that can't be made. I understand where these protests are coming from but people could be dying because of this.
"I've had people in this morning with 14 miles range left. They've just had to turn round and go home, they haven't got enough left to keep driving around."
Problems on the forecourts preceded the recent protests. The war in Ukraine - and the economic sanctions placed on Russia - were blamed for a huge recent increase in prices.
March saw record rises, as fuel surged by 20p a litre or more to averages of 167.3 P/L for unleaded and 179.9 P/L. Prices climbed even higher in some parts of rural Norfolk.
When they have fuel, the Collins family peg their prices in line with the Morrisons a few miles down the road at Fakenham. Until they ran out, they were charging 166.9p P/L for unleaded and 178.39p P/L for diesel.
"Sometimes we make a loss but we try and support our customers," said Andrew.
Protests began in earnest on Sunday, as anti-fossil fuel groups broke into terminals at Buncefield, in Herts and Grays, in Essex, where the Collins family source their fuel.
Just Stop Oil and other groups claimed direct action was sparked by the government's decision to ramp up oil and gas extraction from the North Sea to replace imported fuel from Russia.
"I spoke to Essex police and they said they've undermined the road," said Mr Collins Snr. "I said you've got to do something, just do something about it.
"Maybe they ought to send the army in, someone who's got a bit of muscle to do something."
Just before noon on Tuesday Essex police said it had now made 373 arrests, adding: "At this stage, there are no active protests in Essex and all sites which have been affected over the last 12 days are clear of incident and are reporting business as usual."
Back at Thursford, the Collins family was still waiting for answers as the phone kept ringing with customers calling to ask when they might have fuel.
"They don't want to drive around looking for the stuff," said Andrew. "It's a vicious circle because if you drive around looking for it, you're using what you've got left."
On a normal day, the garage might expect to service between 250 and 300 customers from their 65,000 litre tanks - enough to fill something like 1,300 family cars.
While the roads had become noticeably quieter before the crisis, as rising prices began to hit home, a fine forecast for the coming Easter Bank Holiday weekend means the A148 could be filled with holidaymakers heading for the north coast.
"They're going to come down from the Midlands and the north not knowing if there's a problem, if they're going to be able to get home," said Andrew, who said he saw holidaymakers in tears during the last crisis, in the autumn, when they were unable to get home.
The crisis has also highlighted how the character of rural Norfolk has changed since the Collins family started out in 1971, before the coming of the supermarkets.
"There were three garages at Wells," said Andrew. "There was one at Guist, one at Langor Bridge, there was a BP in Fakenham, there was one at Snoring, one at Sculthorpe, one at Four Winds, we're up to nine already which would all have had fuel under the ground."
Motorists on the hunt for fuel nowadays have to head out a little further in the hope of finding some.