This story has worrying implications, possibly, for quite a few retailers. So do you know what ’zone’ your forecourt is in, water-wise?

This quandary came to light when Keith Terry, who used to work for Jet, decided to come out of retirement and set up a new business partnership and buy a forecourt. He looked at a site in Plymouth, currently served by Esso. Keith rang Shell to sound out whether the company would supply. The answer rather staggered him (and everyone else we’ve talked to since). Shell said, no way, the site is in ’Zone One’ under the Environment Agency’s Ground Source Protection scheme (of drinking water). If you punt around the Environment Agency’s website you will learn that Zone One falls into the ’inner protection zone’ which measures how long any pollution takes to travel to the bore hole from source. If it’s within 50 days it is classified as inside Zone One and number one, in this case, is not a good thing.

Keith rang to ask me whether other oil companies were following the same policy. I didn’t have a clue so I spoke to John Wainewright, expert in environmental solutions for the forecourt trade, and he was, I quote, "gob-smacked" by the very idea that an oil company would base its supply criteria upon the water protection scheme."

Given that forecourts are riskier than most other retail outlets and that they have more safeguards in place than anyone else, it led me to wondering whether this was one of those ’environmentally-friendly’ policies adopted for the sake of political correctness, carbon footprint, eco-awareness etc, but never mind the customers, ie the forecourts relying upon supply. Of course, the polluter pays in the event of mishap, so this is going to be on most companies’ list of things to discuss come meeting time. And even if a company is currently supplying, when it comes to contract-renewal time, suggests Keith Terry, this could be a factor one could do without.

Feedback on this subject would obviously be good.

== The phoenix rises ==

Nice to know that silver linings do exist. It was good to talk to Brian Charlton just after Easter following his official grand re-opening. The last time I mentioned him, it was following the fire that wiped out his North Yorkshire business in November 2005. He traded from a portakabin for just over a year while a new store, 400sq ft bigger than the previous 1,000 sq ft unit and fitted out to the latest Londis standard, was rebuilt. The business, Middleton Garage, is on a big site on the A170 en route to the Moors (in fact it is just 50 yards from the National Park boundary) so it gets a lot of passing trade and tourists stopping by.

"The local people supported us very well," says Brian, "but we could only carry the basics because of lack of space and so we lost about one-third of our turnover during the rebuilding."

After the fire the insurance company, quite slowly, coughed up £800,000 and Brian spent another £200,000 on improvements. He will be switching insurance companies though: "They still owe me £200,000 - it’s all delays and disputes."

He actually re-opened just before Christmas and held a ’pre-opening’ event in the village hall and invited the local people along. Then the official re-opening brought on the band with a fair bit of hoopla including a wagon supplying burgers, another supplier doing cake samples and the ’Total girls’ washing windscreens. "Easter weekend was brilliant," says Brian: "We were up 50% pre-fire."

== Treat them right - they work for you! ==

I’ve been following the stories about forecourt card-cloning fraud lately,. Police seem to think that it is professional gang crime relying on low-paid casual type workers who have no loyalty to their employers and are thus willing to collude with criminals.

I’m sorry but this brings me back to Murco who I am sure does not mistreat its employees but, by virtue of its system of using contract managers, has managed to pass on a mistreatment.

In my last column I wrote that employee Hasmukh Sodha, employed by two Murco contract managers subsequently two years in a row, had not had any payslips and was panicking over IR demands. I also wrote that this had been sorted because Murco had spoken to the contract managers and they had promised to sort the problems. However the present contract manager coughed up but the contract manager of two years ago never showed up with the paperwork. Murco promised to re-investigate but then a new contract manager - Hasmukh’s third - arrived. Unfortunately the new manager said sorry, I can’t take you on because there is no paperwork.

Murco, this needs sorting!