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Several Cambridge petrol stations out of fuel amid HGV driver crisis and warnings over panic buying

A number of petrol stations in the Cambridge area have closed and others are experiencing long delays as motorists ignore government calls not to panic buy fuel.

A national shortage of HGV drivers prompted BP and Tesco to close a handful of their forecourts across the country on Thursday (September 24), as they could not deliver fuel to them.

Sainsbury’s on Coldhams Lane in Cambridge was closed on the morning of Friday, September 24, 2021 but was hoping to reopen in the afternoon following a delivery. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sainsbury’s on Coldhams Lane in Cambridge was closed on the morning of Friday, September 24, 2021 but was hoping to reopen in the afternoon following a delivery. Picture: Keith Heppell

That has prompted a wave of panic buying in some areas, leading to shortages elsewhere.

This morning (Friday, September 25), BP on Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, was out of petrol and awaiting a delivery “this evening” according to staff there.

The BP garage in Newmarket Road, Cambridge, also had no fuel on Friday afternoon, although it remained open for other services.

Sainsbury’s forecourt in Coldhams Lane, Cambridge, was forced to close due to a shortage of fuel but was hoping to reopen at 3pm on Friday after a tanker arrived to refill its stocks.

Esso in Histon Road, Arbury, in Cambridge, did not have any petrol in the morning either, with staff unsure when the next delivery was due.

The BP garage in Newmarket Road, Cambridge, did not have fuel on the afternoon of Friday, September 24, 2021. Picture: Mike Scialom (51569792)
The BP garage in Newmarket Road, Cambridge, did not have fuel on the afternoon of Friday, September 24, 2021. Picture: Mike Scialom (51569792)

At Tesco’s garage in Milton, staff said there had been queues since 6am. At about 1.30pm, it temporarily closed as a tanker arrived to refill.

In the afternoon, major queues built up at the A14/A10 interchange due to queuing for the petrol station.

At the Co-op in Burwell, a very lengthy queue led to near the edge of the village as drivers tried to fill up in the afternoon and, in a community Facebook group, the manager urged drivers not to be verbally abusive to staff.

A2B Travel Group, which runs coach and bus services in villages, said it was experiencing delays to its services in Cambridge, Bar Hill and Royston due to people “panic-buying” fuel.

Meanwhile, Stagecoach East warned anyone using a bus service that runs near a forecourt to expect delays today.

Transport minister Grant Shapps moved to dissuade drivers from panic-buying.

“The advice would be to carry on as normal, and that is what BP is saying as well,” he told Sky News.

And he sought to play down the extent of the problem.

He said: “As of last night, five petrol stations on the BP network out of 12 or 13 hundred were affected.

“I’m meeting this morning with Tesco and I’m sure they’ll give me the update for themselves.

“None of the other retailers said they had any closures.”

He added: “The others, Asda, Morrisons and other supermarkets are saying they have no problems, as have other petrol companies.”

Other estimates suggested 50 to 100 BP sites were currently affected.

Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the Tesco refilling stations, said a “small number” were affected.

“I’ll move heaven and Earth to do anything that’s required to make sure that lorries carry on moving our goods and services and petrol around the country,” Mr Shapps said.

He denied that Brexit was the culprit in the UK’s recent shortage of lorry drivers, arguing that the split from the European Union has helped the government react.

Instead, he suggested the pandemic had led to a shortage of tests for new HGV drivers.

“Not only are there very large and even larger shortages in other EU countries like Poland and Germany, which clearly can’t be to do with Brexit, but actually because of Brexit I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU,” he said.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps. Picture: PA/Victoria Jones (51567240)
Transport secretary Grant Shapps. Picture: PA/Victoria Jones (51567240)

“So, Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV (heavy goods vehicle) tests and there are a lot more, twice as many, tests available now than before the pandemic, a large proportion of those we’ve only been able to do because we are no longer in the EU.”

But speaking to staff on one forecourt this morning, a different picture emerged.

They suggested the HGV lorry crisis was a long-standing problem, and a reduction in the number of European drivers since Brexit had exacerbated the issue.

At a meeting a week ago BP reportedly told the government that the company was struggling to get fuel to its forecourts.

Its head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as “bad, very bad”, according to a report by ITV News.

BP had “two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations”, she said, adding that the level is “declining rapidly”.

The AA has said that most of the UK’s forecourts are working as they should amid worries over supply of petrol at some sites.

“There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems,” said AA president Edmund King.

“Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.

“Drivers should not fill up outside their normal routines because, even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.

“It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem.”

On Thursday Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade body said that the government had allowed the driver shortage to get “gradually worse” in recent months.

“We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers),” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“When you think that everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a lorry, whether it’s fuel or food or clothes or whatever it is, at some point, if there are no drivers to drive those trucks, the trucks aren’t moving and we’re not getting our stuff.”

He added: “I don’t think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn’t panic buy food or fuel or anything else, that’s not what this is about.

“This is about stock outs, it’s about shortages, it’s about a normal supply chain being disrupted.”

Spotted a closed forecourt or a long queue? Let us know by emailing newsdesk@iliffemedia.co.uk or via Twitter @CambridgeIndy

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