1:50pm Wednesday 28th March 2012
By Emily Walker, Chief Reporter
Motorists are being urged not to panic after customers queued to buy fuel and some stocks of unleaded petrol sold out.
Driving groups warned that motorists filling up in fear of fuel protests could cause as much disruption as any potential strike.
Petrol prices hit record highs yesterday, with unleaded costing 142.9p a litre at the BP garage at the junction of the A23 and A27 in Patcham.
Diesel reached 148.9p a litre at several of the county’s filling stations and, despite no fuel strike having been officially announced, queues formed on forecourts and some displayed signs saying they had sold out.
The heaviest buying spotted in Sussex yesterday was at the two Asda filling stations in Brighton.
A spokesman for the AA warned: “People should keep buying it as they normally would.
“Most drivers fill up about once a fortnight, but if everyone fills up today and tomorrow we will run resources down.”
Fuel shortages are expected to hit Sussex if tanker drivers go on strike.
Workers at five firms which deliver fuel to Shell, Esso, Tesco and Sainsbury’s garages have voted to walk out over contracts and conditions.
They include those delivering fuel from the Coryton and Purfleet refineries in Essex, which serve Sussex.
Officials from the union Unite have not named a strike date but would have to give seven days’ notice of a walkout.
The Easter holiday weekend has not been ruled out as one for strikes.
Downing Street urged people who are reliant on their cars to “make contingency plans” in case of a strike.
But the warning caused an increased demand for fuel at some garages.
A spokeswoman for Asda said that queues at its Brighton Marina store and unleaded selling out at its Hollingbury forecourt were not due to any shortage and that new supplies would arrive overnight.
She said: “We have had exactly the same amount of fuel we always have.
“We have just had increased demand. We have two tankers on their way and are expecting delivery soon.
“We have not got a shortage and we are not expecting one.”
Roger French, managing director of Brighton and Hove Bus Company, said they had been promised by the government that bus firms would be prioritised in the event of a strike.
He added: “We are ensuring our fuel tanks are kept topped up all the time and are confident we will be able to keep services going.
“We hope that if there is a strike that we will be able to provide a good alternative for people who are unable to fill up their cars.”
Workers for tanker firms Turners, Norbert Dentressangle, Wincanton, BP and Hoyer have voted to strike.
Tanker drivers can earn an average of £45,000 a year but work 12-hour shifts, driving a 44-tonne vehicle holding between 36,000 and 40,000 litres of petroleum products.
Diana Holland, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said: “This is not about pay – this is about ensuring that high safety and training standards are maintained so our communities are safe.”
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