A report in the British press has revealed that the number of independent forecourts in the UK has plummeted in recent years.

The Independent newspaper cites official figures to be released later this year that show the number of UK petrol stations has dipped below the 10,000 mark for the first time since 1912. According to the report, some 600 sites shut down in 2005.

The provisional data has led to further criticism of the role of supermarkets in fuel retail. The Petrol Retailers’ Association has asked the government to intervene to prevent supermarkets from selling fuel as a loss leader.

The rise of the supermarket forecourt also poses other problems, the report says. In particular, supermarkets’ standard location in urban or suburban areas means that drivers are now having to drive further to buy fuel, while forecourts in rural areas are finding custom increasingly hard to come by.

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading refused to reveal whether fuel would form part of any antitrust probe into supermarkets’ position in the retail sector.