2023 in forecourt property terms saw very much a continuation of 2022. There have been relatively few individual sites on the open market despite high values but many have changed hands as part of a corporate deal. This year saw Eurogarages acquire the Co-Op’s petrol stations, MFG had to divest of 87 sites to keep the CMA happy and EG then sold the majority of their sites to Asda.
In the independent market, opportunities to acquire sites have been relatively few and far between with operators generally looking to hold sites as margins and profits continue to remain strong. We continue to get daily calls from prospective purchasers and even regular calls on sites that we have sold years ago from purchasers hoping that they might be coming back to the market.
Where Rapleys was most active in 2023 was on New To Industry sites with operators still looking at both Knock Down Rebuilds and bringing old sites back into the market. Recently we agreed a deal in London on a site that hasn’t been an active petrol station for 20 years! Meanwhile demand is strong for roadside developments, especially in transient sites where there is potential for food to go, and other income streams alongside the forecourt itself.
However, these transactions can be slow, especially with the increasingly complex needs of a planning application even for a relatively basic scheme. For example, 2 sites Rapleys was involved with triumphed in their regions at this year’s Forecourt Trader awards Rontec Billingshurst and Welcome Break Newark. However, the initial stages of the latter instruction started back in 2016, meaning it’s been almost 6 years from start to the site being open and trading. It’s a clear sign that operators should be prepared for a long term development but also for the need for specialist planning advice from a consultant with experience.
Our planning team has also been busy obtaining consents for existing sites to add EV charging where required. However, most operators have seen this as an add on to their existing site rather than any major plan to convert the site to Electric Charging only. Operators should be aware, however, that there are more and more operators looking at EV charging sites only and therefore they will be competing for sites in the right locations with these kind of operators.
2024 is likely to see more of the same, with a lack of acquisition opportunities. However, it is worth flagging that, given the growth in the market, that there could be some operators with rent reviews coming up who will need to consider carefully how much the market has improved in the last five years. They may well find themselves facing a significant rental uplift.