Easter fuel fears calmed as queues at Norfolk and Suffolk petrol stations reduce

Rail companies, bus operators and transport groups insisted families starting their Easter holidays this weekend should not be hampered by fuel shortages – as long as they acted sensibly.

Unite, the union representing tanker workers, yesterday confirmed its members would not strike over the Easter weekend.

But that did not stop big queues forming at petrol stations across Norfolk and north Suffolk as panic buying continued.

A number of forecourts ran out of fuel altogether – with some not expecting further deliveries until Monday – while the majority had at least some pumps closed off.

Last night rail operator Greater Anglia and First buses said their services would not be affected by the ongoing panic while The AA said news that any potential strike was at least a fortnight away should be enough to ensure families heading away for the school holidays should not have their plans disrupted because of shortages.

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The chaos caused by panic-buying motorists has highlighted the dependence of rural communities on private transport, campaigners said last night.

Despite assurances from Unite, the union representing 2,000 of the country's tanker drivers, that a strike would not take place over the Easter weekend, long queues continued to clog up streets and disrupt lives yesterday as drivers desperately tried to fill their tanks.

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Once again some petrol stations across Norfolk and north Suffolk ran out altogether, forcing motorists to seek out another forecourt, while many had at least some pumps run dry.

It prompted reassurances by transport companies, emergency services and the petrol stations themselves that the situation was not as bad as it appeared.

Last night Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said the problems over the last two days highlighted rural counties' dependence on private transport.

He said: 'Fuel shortages are a problem for everyone but while in urban areas there are alternative options of public transport, or the option of walking or cycling, the whole of the rural economy is heavily dependent on access to fuel.'

Mr Clemo said that meant situations like the panic buying seen across the country would hit rural communities disproportionately hard, since many had no choice but to join a queue to fill up for an essential journey.

He said it was time to look for a more sustainable, long-term solution to address that dependence.

The two days of panic buying have led up to the start of the Easter holidays for schools and this weekend is set to see many families heading off on trips both within and outside of the county.

Greater Anglia, which runs rail services between Norwich and London, Cambridge, and the Norfolk coast, said trains were not being affected by fuel shortages and there were no plans to change their normal timetables this weekend.

Meanwhile, bus company First, which operates more than 60 routes in Norfolk and Suffolk, did not report any delays.

A spokesman for First said it hoped if the rumoured strikes became a reality, they would remain unaffected: 'We hope that the government will see public transport as an efficient user of fuel and therefore part of the solution to keeping the economy moving in the event of any industrial action.'

Norwich City supporters were confident the problems would not prevent them heading down to Fulham today for their first match at the home of the London team since a 6-0 defeat confirmed relegation from the Premier League back in 2005.

Robin Sainty said he expected one of the best turnouts by away fans all season and, with many taking the train to the capital, could not see fuel shortages stopping them.

The AA, which saw a 50pc increase in the number of call-outs to cars running out of fuel, said it hoped yesterday's announcement by unions that any potential strike was at least a fortnight away would be enough to calm drivers and encourage them to go back to their normal routines.

Luke Bosdet said there was no need for holiday-makers to have their trips ruined by a fuel shortage as long as people acted sensibly.

He added: 'The real tragedy is that thousands of cash-strapped drivers who are finding it hard to afford fuel are wasting money at a rate of two or three pence a minute because of idle engines while they buy fuel they might not necessarily need.'

Emergency services in the East of England were quick to offer reassurance yesterday that they had contingency plans to deal with any fuel shortages caused by panic buying at the pumps.

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: 'EEAST has plans in place in the event of any fuel shortage to ensure that it can continue to respond to emergency 999 calls and provide patient care. At all times we encourage members of the public to think before dialling 999.'

Norfolk police said: 'People can be reassured that there is currently no impact on local policing services.

'We are, in line with government advice, currently reviewing our contingency plans to ensure our services can be protected and maintained in the event of strike action.'

But no reassurances seemed to be able to prevent drivers continuing to queue outside forecourts throughout the day and into the night.

In Norwich, many garages were receiving fresh supplies but panicked drivers were quickly draining the pumps again.

Last night, a queue quickly formed outside the Shell garage on Plumstead Road as a new delivery was made while the station at Asda in Hellesdon was not expecting to have any fuel until 7am this morning.

In the south of Norfolk, up to 25 cars waited outside the Morrisons petrol station in Diss, some of which may have been turned away at the Shell garage on Victoria Road which ran out in the morning, despite managers insisting it had no problem with its supply.

Yarmouth's supermarkets also experienced the rush: around 30 cars queued at Asda and more than 20 waited at Tesco on Pasteur Road to fill up their tanks.

Motorists also flocked to Murco filling station on Beccles Road while the BP and Jet garages on Southtown Road were completely out of fuel.

In Caister, parish council chairman Tony Overall warned of fuel thieves draining the tanks of tractors which he thought might be linked to the threatened strikes.

In West Norfolk, garages in King's Lynn, Downham Market, Heacham, Burnham Deepdale, Hunstanton and Hillington were among those reporting another busy day.

Stainsby's, in Heacham, had to restrict sales to just �25 per customer but many others sought to reassure people that there was no need to panic.

In north Norfolk, diesel proved more of a problem than petrol in North Walsham where the Sainsbury's station had been without diesel since Thursday evening.

Roman Camp at Aylmerton, Esso at Sheringham and Coltishall Island all saw their pumps run dry while others were warning they could also run out if the rush continued.

The problems have also stretched to North Norfolk District Council where garden bin collections have been suspended for two weeks.

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