“Keep calm”: Norfolk drivers told there’s no need to panic-buy fuel
Keep calm – that was today's message to motorists who were told that panic-buying fuel was actually sparking the shortages they were trying to avoid.
Concerns about potential strike action by tanker drivers – exacerbated by government advice to keep jerry cans filled – prompted a rush for the pumps which caused queues at filling stations across the region.
Some ran out of stocks completely as petrol sales shot up by 81pc and diesel by 43pc at garages across the UK.
But with no strike yet confirmed, and conciliation talks due to start next week, drivers were told there was no national shortage of fuels and that there would be no problem if people reverted to their regular buying patterns.
A spokesman for the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 5,500 garages, said: 'This is exactly what we didn't want – people panic-buying. Deliveries are still being made to garages and we are advising people to continue with their normal buying habits.'
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Queues of motorists at filling stations and 'sorry, no fuel' signs were common across the region today while forecourts waited for their next tanker delivery.
Although some stations said they had enough stocks to cope with the extra demand, others ran dry until their next scheduled delivery – but it was unclear whether additional fuel could be delivered to fill the shortfall in the meantime.
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Andrew Lawrence, who owns garages in Hellesdon, Drayton, Dereham, Harleston and Sheringham and who is from Retail Motor Industry (RMI) Petrol, which represents independent petrol stations, said: 'We're extremely busy. Deliveries are just about coping with supply but the more the panic happens the more problems we're going to get in running out of stock.
'Don't panic – there's plenty of supply if everyone works with a responsible attitude to the filling of their cars. The situation should improve throughout the weekend if only people would calm down.'
John Howells, regional director for the Road Haulage Association in the East of England, said while some larger hauliers could use their own bulk stores of diesel, many relied on forecourt services.
He said: 'At the moment, no strike has been announced and if people had not gone into panic mode, there would have been no shortage to talk about. People have created their own problems.'
'Operators who rely on forecourt fuel to keep their vehicles running are either finding themselves in long queues or, if that station has run out, the driver has got to find an alternative service which can accommodate a commercial vehicle, which is not easy. Plus the delays caused by having to queue are affecting their drivers' hours.
'I have heard a couple of operators saying they could not get fuel from their usual source. They are not filling up for the sake of it.'
Ricki Lomas, a taxi driver and member of the Norwich Airport Taxi Association, said: 'It is absolute stupidity. Last night, I went to four garages which were completely out of diesel. I did manage to fill up, but if you get a couple of decent jobs your diesel is gone.
'It boils down to the stupid advice from the government. I came out this morning and there were queuing at 8am and when I came back at 3pm they were still queuing. It is costing us time and money. I have not heard of anyone so far who has not managed to fill up, but if it continues like this, we are going to get to the stage where people who drive for a living will not be able to work.'
A spokesman for Norfolk police said: 'There is currently no shortage of fuel supply nationally or locally and people do not need to depart from their usual purchasing behaviour at this time.
'However, we are aware that demand is increasing at some filling stations around the county which may cause some short-term disruption.
'We remind motorists queuing for fuel that public carriageways must remain clear and not be blocked.
'Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service are advising against the storage of fuel at domestic premises.'
Talks over the tanker drivers dispute will not be held before Monday, the conciliation service Acas announced yesterday.
Acas officials have been in contact with the Unite union and seven distribution companies involved in the row in a bid to convene a meeting and head off the threat of industrial action.