The number of forecourts in the UK and Northern Ireland is continuing to fall, according to new figures from the Energy Institute and Catalist.

The statistics put the number of forecourts at the end of December 2003 at 10,535, meaning that 890 sites stopped trading last year – a rate of 16 a week, up from 15 a week in 2002.

Oil companies laid claim to the most closures – 541 sites – and unsurprisingly, supermarkets increased their networks by 59 sites.

Out of the four largest oil company operations – by number of branded forecourts – Texaco closed the most sites (174) bringing its portfolio of

Texaco branded forecourts to 1,163.

Esso was next in line with its branded network falling by 80 to 1,215 sites. Next was Shell, closing 61 sites to bring its network to 1,098 forecourts.

The figures show that BP increased its numbers by 15, but this was following the rebranding of the National network of sites. The oil company actually closed 52 sites, according to a BP spokeswoman.

This trend for oil company closures could signal that independents have a much brighter future than they had a few years ago.

Arthur Renshaw of Catalist said: “The trend this year has shifted. The closure numbers used to be predominantly made up of independents shutting sites, but their closure is slowing and the numbers are being bumped up by oil companies.”

Ray Holloway, director of the Petrol Retailers’ Association, said that this spells good news for independents. “Generally speaking, company-owned sites are moving to the dealer network – a continuing process that is a great opportunity for independents.

“Dealers should be looking at the company-owned network with an appetite and approach the oil companies about good sites. Retailers should look for sites near houses for the best retail opportunity.

“If independents are less aspirational to sell millions of litres of fuel, but more

concerned about a convenience offering , they can be successful.”

See news extra, p15