The two main bodies that report on market data for the forecourt sector agree that site numbers have decreased, but differ over the scale and significance of the losses.

The latest Retail Marketing Survey, conducted by the Energy Institute (EI), and published as a supplement to the EI’s April issue of Petroleum Review, suggests the net total of forecourts in the UK fell by 137 during 2015, ending the year on 8,472 compared with 8,609 a year earlier. The EI said this indicated the trend for forecourt closures “has begun to pick up again”.

However, Experian Catalyst figures for the same period show a net loss of 97 sites, 40 fewer than the Energy Institute. James Haigh, business consultant at Experian Catalist, said they stood by their figures as they were based on surveys of physical sites and verified by additional data.

He said the EI figures appeared to over indicate the decline and questioned whether it was too early to call it a trend. He said: “At the end of 2014 there was a net decline of 23, but in 2013 there was a net increase of 5. I think we need to see what happens in 2016 before we call it a trend or not.”

The EI’s Retail Marketing Survey also reports that while petrol sales remained fairly stable at 12.78mn tonnes by year-end (from 12.56mn tonnes at the close of 2014), diesel sales rose to 15.72mn tonnes (up from 15.16mn tonnes). Total 2015 road fuel sales for the year were 37.29mn tonnes. Registered UK vehicles broke records in 2015, to reach 35.93mn, with each forecourt supplying an average of 4,241 vehicles.

In terms of site numbers BP maintained its lead the forecourt branding field, with 1,278 outlets (1,163 in 2014), followed by Esso with 1,030 branded sites (1,012 in 2014), and Shell with 1,023 branded forecourts (1,019 in 2014). Texaco was ranked fourth, with 820 branded service stations (773 in 2014).

The supermarket sector held 44% market share, accounting for just over 43% of total UK fuel sales. Tesco had the greatest number of sites with 506 (504 in 2014), followed by Morrisons with 336 (332 in 2014), Sainsbury’s with 302 (298 in 2014) and Asda – 278 (246 in 2014).