Belfast Telegraph

Cheaper petrol for Northern Ireland if fuel rebate policy extended

By Arj Singh

Motorists in rural parts of Northern Ireland could pay less for petrol and diesel under Government proposals to extend a fuel rebate scheme, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said.

Petrol pumps and other fuel retailers in remote areas in Britain have been asked to let the Government know how much they charge so ministers can seek the necessary permission from the European Commission to extend the discount scheme.

Currently islanders off the coast of Scotland and in the Isles of Scilly get a 5p discount because the cost of transporting fuel there means prices are much higher.

The Treasury said it is keen to identify areas where prices were consistently similar to those on the islands.

That would include all of Northern Ireland, which has consistently had the highest petrol prices in the UK in recent years.

If the plans go through, many rural areas could benefit from fuel discounts.

The retailers who have been asked to provide price information cover much of Northern Ireland outside the two largest urban areas.

The AA's July fuel price report stated that Northern Ireland had the highest UK price for unleaded petrol at 136.6p per litre.

The UK average was 135.8ppl.

Danny Alexander, Chief Sectary to the Treasury, said it will not be easy to get the required approval from the Commission and other European Union member states, but the Government would strive to make it a reality for areas that qualified for the discount.

He said: "The island fuel rebate provides much-needed help to keep down fuel prices in areas where costs of transporting fuel mean that prices are much higher.

"I know there are other remote rural areas of the UK with similarly high fuel costs.

"So we are today starting to gather further evidence that will form part of an application to the commission to extend the island fuel duty discount scheme to very remote rural areas.

"We will need to prove that there are areas which are similar to the islands in terms of pump prices and distribution costs so I would urge local areas that may qualify to provide the information we need to make the case as robust as possible."

Mr Alexander added: "As a Highlander, I know that for people who live in rural areas driving is not a choice, but a necessity.

"So while it won't be easy to get this agreed with the Commission, I want to do everything I can to make this happen."

Campaign group FairFuelUK said that even if the consultation is successful it would only help a small number of people and businesses. He called for a fuel duty cut across the whole of the UK.

FairFuelUK spokesman Quentin Willson said: "I welcome the Treasury's acknowledgement that the UK needs a duty cut, but we need it across the country, not just for remote communities. Everybody is hurting, not just the few."

Nearly 1,500 retailers in 35 counties and districts across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are being consulted on the issue.

FACTFILE

Fuel retailers in the following areas of Northern Ireland are being asked to send pump price data to the Government: Antrim; Armagh; Ballymena; Ballymoney; Banbridge; Coleraine; Cookstown; Down; Dungannon; Fermanagh; Larne; Limavady; Magherafelt; Moyle; Newry and Mourne; Omagh, Strabane.

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