Watch the convoy protesting plans to close South Tyneside's driving test centre, with MPs set to demand answers in Parliament
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The facility, at Bede Industrial Estate, in Jarrow, is slated to close in April after bosses at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) deemed it surplus to requirements.
The move has provoked anger among the borough’s driving instructors, leading to a convoy protest to raise awareness of the plans they fear could hit learner drivers in the pocket.
Writing on Facebook, she said: “The driving instructor community, led by the brilliant campaign lead Vikki Holt, put forward a passionate and articulate case why our Driving Test Centre on the Bede Industrial Estate should remain open.
“I felt that the DVSA officials failed to answer many key questions during the meeting and did not put forward good reason as to why the Jarrow facility is due to close in April.
“These instructors have been hit hard during the pandemic and I am seriously concerned that this closure will impact heavily on waiting times and place added financial strain to our community.
“I intend to raise this issue with the Transport Minister during Oral Questions on Thursday.”
Oral questions sessions in Parliament, the most famous of which is Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), offer MPs the chance to quiz senior government figures on major issues.
As well as longer waiting times for driving tests, which instructors claim have surged from four weeks to almost five months since the start of the Covid pandemic, it is feared the decision could increase lesson costs and even hit the borough’s economy to the tune of £2 million.
“We came away feeling very disappointed, like the decision has already been made,” said campaigner Vikki Holt.
“I’m not one for going to the table just for a whinge, but it was suggested to them that this was the wrong time to be doing this, because of the post-Covid recovery.
“The DVSA says it’s trying to give value for money and get test waiting times down, but closing the test centre won’t do that.
“Why not recruit more examiners to get waiting lists down and then they could revisit the decision and actually consult with local people.”
The DVSA has been contacted for its own comment, following the latest meeting with MPs, council chiefs and protestors.
In a previous response to the campaign to save the test centre, it insisted testing capacity will not be affected by the closure, with demand expected to be handled by Sunderland’s test centre, raising concerns of an exodus of instructors from South Tyneside.
It added: “We have made the decision to close the South Shields driving test centre, as there are other nearby centres where the same services can be relocated.
“We understand this change may cause an inconvenience for some, but we have worked hard to ensure that there is no change in the number of tests provided to local candidates, and no tests were lost as a result of the closure.”