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Military tanker drivers delivering fuel across Kent as petrol situation improves but county still one of worst hit areas


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The military is continuing to help deliver fuel to forecourts as a body representing petrol retailers described a “marked improvement” in the situation across most of the country.

But Kent, as well as most other parts of London and the south east, has only see a “marginal” improvement, with these area still facing a “challenging” time, the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said.

The military has been drafted in to drive tankers to deliver fuel (Joe Giddens/PA)
The military has been drafted in to drive tankers to deliver fuel (Joe Giddens/PA)

Eddie Spencer, of Tonbridge Road, Maidstone, lives a stone's throw away from the petrol station.

The 37-year-old said: “It’s been an absolute nightmare. It was already a fairly busy road, but this has made unbearable.

"When it all kicked off a couple weeks ago I thought it’d be over quickly but I was so wrong. I’ve tried to leave to go to the supermarket at night and had to sit in my car for a while just to wedge myself into a long queue.

"All these cars on the road with their engines on isn’t going to do the area any good as well. You can see from the picture online what a mess it is.

"Luckily I’ve been able to work from home as there would be no chance of me needing to get where I wanted to be, or I’d need to leave an hour early to get where I wanted to go.”

Traffic queuing in Tonbridge Road, Maidstone Picture: Daniel Still
Traffic queuing in Tonbridge Road, Maidstone Picture: Daniel Still

Claire Simms, of Boxley Road, has been able to watch the queueing traffic and mayhem from her flat opposite the Esso garage.

She said: “It was causing real problems by the lights for a while as when people tried to turn onto the road they couldn’t as everyone was queuing for the petrol station. It doesn’t look like it’s going to ease up any time soon.

"There seems to be more petrol being delivered but it’s gone so quick when hordes of people turn up, blocking the road in the process, and scurrying off with their fuel.

"I’ve seen how bad Tonbridge Road is from pictures online and we’re lucky the petrol station isn’t further up Boxley Road or it might be even more of a pain.”

Esso in Boxley Road, Maidstone
Esso in Boxley Road, Maidstone

Daniel John, who lives on the bottom end of Tonbridge Road, described what it's been like seeing the traffic queue up the busy road.

He said: "We've seen all the queueing traffic from our house. It's been sporadic most of the time, from normal to really bust.

"I live down hill from the station so we see traffic queuing up the road. The first week it was quite bad, less so recently because it seems like they only get very limited supplies now.

"At the weekend there was loads of cars queueing down the hill near to the junction of Queen's Road."

He hasn't been able to get any fuel for nearly three weeks, which has stopped him from going into the office in London once a week.

He added he's not too concerned about any possible fumes from cars idling as they wait for fuel, as Tonbridge Road is "such a busy road anyway".

"Our windows are often absolutely filthy from the road, so it's likely sitting in traffic is not going to help," Daniel said.

Soldiers and airmen have been given tanker training at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD
Soldiers and airmen have been given tanker training at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD

However, help may be at hand in the form of 100 Army and RAF personnel who started driving tankers on Monday, after receiving training from the Defence School of Transport in East Riding in Yorkshire.

Others have been trained up by private company Hoyer Petrolog UK at the firm's base in Thurrock.

The Army's communications manager Chris Fetcher confirmed that some of the military personnel riding to the rescue were Sappers from 36 Engineer Regiment based at Invicta barracks in Maidstone.

Soldiers are given tanker instruction at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD
Soldiers are given tanker instruction at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD

The PRA said its survey of a quarter of all independent petrol stations in Great Britain yesterday showed that around a fifth of these sites around London and the South East remained without fuel.

When it comes to the rest of the country that figure was 8%, said the PRA, adding that 86% of sites surveyed have both petrol and diesel available.

The association represents independent forecourts across the UK and works with around 80% of all motorway services areas.

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, said it is “grateful” that the government has brought in military drivers to make deliveries but called for more action to address “the needs of disproportionately affected areas”.

He said: “Today’s figures show the situation is still challenging around London and the South East despite a marginal improvement: 62% of the sites surveyed have both grades of fuel (petrol and diesel) available, 18% have only one grade and 20% are dry.

“Across the rest of the country, however, there has been a marked improvement since yesterday with 86% of sites having both grades of fuel thanks to steady deliveries and stabilising demand, 6% having only one grade and 8% being dry.

“We are grateful for the support lent by the Government through their provision of military drivers, although further action must be taken to address the needs of disproportionately affected areas”.

Soldiers and airmen have been given tanker training at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD
Soldiers and airmen have been given tanker training at the Defence School of Transport in East Riding, Yorkshire Picture: MOD

Members of the armed forces arrived at the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead on Monday to help deliver fuel, with soldiers – in uniform and wearing face masks – seen walking near the gates to the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal.

It is understood almost 200 military personnel were due to be deployed from Monday, including 100 drivers.

By the end of this week it is expected that 150 crews will be delivering fuel across the UK.

The majority of the first tranche of military personnel are being deployed to terminals that service London and the South East, targeting the areas most in need of support.

Payments for military support are understood to be commercially sensitive.

In a further sign of an improving situation, forecourt operator EG Group announced on Monday that it would remove the £30 cap on fuel sales.

A spokesperson said: “Following a significant improvement in fuel availability at our sites, with customer purchasing behaviour returning to normal levels in the majority of locations, we are pleased to confirm that we can now remove the £30 cap on buying fuel.”

They added that there remains “some challenges, primarily in our locations in the South and the South East, but following the actions from the Government to secure additional drivers from the military this week, we expect availability issues easing in the coming days.”

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