Motorists in Northern Ireland have been advised not to panic amid fears of swingeing fuel price hikes.
The AA has spoken out to allay fears that the cost of petrol could soar by as much as 8% — or 9p per litre — over the coming months.
Price increases of 3% (or 4ppl) could also come into affect over the August Bank Holiday weekend, according to the Retail Motor Industry Independent Petrol Retailers Association (RMI Petrol).
The organisation put the blame for the expected rises — which include hikes in VAT and planned fuel duty — on world oil price increases and currency movements.
But, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, AA Public Affairs spokesman Luke Bosdet said average fuel prices fell on Sunday to 116.6p for petrol and 119p per litre of diesel.
Yet he conceded that it has been a tough year for drivers in an economy blighted by the worst ravages of recession.
“Petrol prices are 14p a litre or £7 a tank more expensive than they were this time last year and drivers in Northern Ireland have suffered an appaling fuel price lottery this summer,” he said.
“Prices have varied by as much as 6p a litre or £3 a tank between neighbouring towns depending whether or not there is a competitive retailer, like Asda. In 2006/2007, it was just 2p.
“Industry sources tell us that sales are down in some areas and we saw prices fall up to 2p a litre last week in some towns, even with wholesale prices beginning to go up.”
He added: “Drivers cut back not because they want to but because they have to, and they are hitting back.”
Mr Bosdet said that rising wholesale prices didn’t necessarily spell disaster for the cost of fuel in the near future.
“We’ve seen wholesale prices go up a number of times over the last year and we’ve also seen bad economic indicators bring them back down again,” he said.
“The message we would be giving to motorists is — don’t panic.”
RMI Petrol chairman Brian Madderson predicted that pump prices are soon to reach an all-time high.
“As I forecast earlier this summer, we could be seeing new record pump prices within six months,” said Mr Madderson.