Calling for a U-turn over plans to close driving test centre

Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette:

APPROACHING the end of last year, I was left stunned when the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) announced they were considering closing the Driving Test Centre on the Bede Industrial Estate in Jarrow.

These plans understandably caused a great deal of anger and upset across the whole driving instructor community and for those learning to drive in South Tyneside.

The test centre on the Bede Industrial Estate is the only facility in the borough and it has served the community wonderfully well for many decades.

To close this centre will mean that South Tyneside residents will be forced to use the test centre in Sunderland. It has quite rightly caused immense anxiety and concern for local driving instructors, their pupils, and the local community.

Generations of families have passed their driving test there, and it would be yet another hammer blow to South Tyneside if this wholly unacceptable closure was allowed to go ahead.

The Borough, one of the highest for unemployment, is already one of the hardest hit in this country following more than a decade of Government cuts. Our local authorities have already lost more than half of their funding. We’ve lost vital health services such as the Jarrow walk-in centre, the Special Care Baby Unit and Children’s A&E services have closed between the hours of 10pm and 8pm. Acute services such as stroke and maternity services have also been moved to Sunderland. Jarrow, too, lost the much-loved St. Clare’s Hospice three years ago and we have been without a palliative hospice facility ever since.

However, over the past week the decision appears to have been made without any prior consultation. The DVSA have already contacted driving instructors confirming that the Driving Test Centre on the Bede Industrial Estate will be closing its doors after 10th April.

I had already agreed a meeting with the DVSA and the driving instructor community later this month. I was hoping that the DVSA would listen to and take the views on board of all those affected, such as the instructors and our community, but it seems they are hell-bent on going ahead with the closure without consulting anyone.

Instead, myself and the local driving instructor community will use this opportunity to urge the DVSA to rethink the closure and preserve a vital local service.

The loss of the Jarrow facility is yet another blow to South Tyneside, while lesson times, prices and waiting lists all increase at a period when waiting times for driving tests are at an all-time high.

I am seriously concerned about the poor communication and lack of consultation with the driving instructor community about this decision.

Moving the test centre away from South Tyneside could discourage many from learning to drive in the Borough. There will undoubtedly be an increase in fuel costs should pupils have to take their tests out of South Tyneside. This will impact the travelling times for lessons should they need to prepare students for driving tests away from South Tyneside.

This closure risks skilled Instructors and Examiners leaving the industry which will further exacerbate the long waiting times.

Due to the financial pressure of booking longer lessons, parents will have to teach their children themselves. While this is an acceptable practice, it will lead to more vehicles without dual controls on roads which pose a safety concern to all road users.

The added distance South Tyneside learners will be forced to drive to take lessons in Sunderland will increase emissions and impact negatively on the environment.

I have again contacted the Chief Executive of the DVSA and the Transport Secretary, urging them to reconsider this ill-thought-out decision.

I’m 100% behind the campaign to save our Test Centre and I encourage as many people as possible to sign the online petition to urge the DVSA to reconsider the closure of our Test Centre and the relocation of its services via