Gloomy predictions of a further cull in the number of forecourts is echoing around petrol retailing network as high fuel prices in particular and the credit crunch in general have hit fuel sales. Paul Sykes, MD of Huddersfield-based Shaws Petroleum Ltd, said the past eight weeks had seen volumes on his

five sites down, on average by 15%, against the same weeks last year: "Last week we were down 19%. I am told Sainsbury is down 13% and Tesco 10%," he said.

"I had a day out around our sites with BP in June and suggested that they would own a lot more sites in 12 months’ time. I don’t think the ’key account manager’ realised that I meant through foreclosure on dealers. I don’t think it will be 12 months now.

"By Christmas there will be some big casualties - dealers who have bought at the very top of the market and borrowed heavily to finance the purchases and then been hit by rising prices, increasing the need for working capital just to stock up at a time when demand has fallen off a cliff edge.

"I have budgeted for a 10% fall in volumes for the next 12 months. At that level, we can just break even. 15% is dire. We actually need another cull in the industry if some independents are to survive. Thank heavens the price is falling - but a shame it has to tumble."

PRA director Ray Holloway said there seemed to be a north/south divide with sites in the north worst affected. While he thought fuel sales over the next few weeks would be quieter than the same time last year, on the upside, he said many families would be staying in the UK.

He also said forecourt shop sales were not suffering in the same way: "People value a forecourt because of its range of services. Price is not a big issue in convenience - people buy food as they need it rather than stock up in the supermarket."