The companies that make up Forecourt Trader’s Top 50 Indies now account for almost 25% of the forecourts in the entire UK market.

Editor Merril Boulton told an audience of more than 150 at the 2016 Top 50 Indies Dinner that between them they added 361 sites during 2015 taking the total to 2,123 sites.

The dinner, at the Hilton Syon Park in west London, was attended by executives from the Top 50 companies and marked the publication of the 2016 listing.

Guest speaker at the event was Steve Rodell, managing director of retail at property specialist Christie & Co, and he told his audience the success of the independents was attracting investment into the sector.

He said: “Forecourt operations are increasingly attractive to banks who have increased their willingness to lend into the sector at historically low interest rates. They are encouraging established customers to buy additional sites or invest in the existing ones.

“Hungry existing dealers are looking to add their second or third site. I think everyone in this room is also looking to add more sites to their portfolio.”

He said demand for any available sites was extremely high adding: “We have seen strong pricing at up to seven or eight times adjusted net profits or EBITDA.”

The buoyant market was also attracting the interest of private equity firms, he said, with the purchase of MRH, the number one ranked Top 50 Indie, by Lonestar as the most recent example.

He explained: “Lenders and investors are looking for new places to put their money. Forecourts are seen as a relatively untapped alternative investment with attractive returns.”