Furious reaction to test centres closure plan

Driving instructors at the Arbroath test centre on Wednesday. Holding the protest are Lez Wells and June Clarke.
Driving instructors at the Arbroath test centre on Wednesday. Holding the protest are Lez Wells and June Clarke.

A MOVE by the Driving Standards Agency to close the driving test centres in Arbroath and Forfar and move all the tests to Dundee has evoked a furious reaction from local driving instructors.

They are so angry at what they see as a high-handed move by a government department that they have already initiated a campaign of protest, supported by Mike Weir MP, Andrew Welsh MSP and local councillors.

A private meeting held in the Rosely Hotel on the outskirts of Arbroath on Tuesday evening was attended by 22 driving instructors from Monifieth, Carnoustie, Arbroath, Forfar, Montrose, Kirriemuir and Brechin and representatives of the MP and MSP.

They then gathered at the DSA Test Centre in Lochlands Drive, Arbroath, at lunchtime on Wednesday to proclaim their opposition to the closures.

Their spokesperson, Lez Wells, proprietor of the Lez Wells School of Motoring, Arbroath, stated: “The idea of Tuesday’s meeting was to formulate a way forward and in the interim period we have contacted all of the bodies involved such as the Driving Instructors’ Association and the Motor Schools’ Association, members of parliament and councillors.

“We think the DSA is making a wrong decision based on five main points.

“First of all, we believe that they are discriminating against the people in Angus. Shutting those two Angus centres down is discrimination against the rural environment which is against government policy.

“Secondly, the DSA have only recently got their Charter for Excellence back. They lost it and have fought long and hard to get it back. They are shutting these test centres down without any consultation so should they have a Charter for Excellence? We don’t think so!

“The government - and hence the DSA - is looking at everyone being ‘green’. In the driving test now you are tested on ‘eco-friendly- driving. Telling half the population of Angus they have to drive to Dundee to take a test is leaving a huge carbon footprint.”

Mr Wells continued: “Every student is going to have to have either two lessons or three hour-long lessons to and from Dundee to be able to get used to the different traffic flow, so there is an immediate increase in costs. And this in the middle of a recession.

“Lastly, there is the question of the driving instructors’ income. If we don’t earn money, we don’t spend money in the local economy and our towns suffer.”

Mr Wells also indicated a concern for the future of the local driving schools, many of which are driver-owner concerns.

He said that there were more than 30 instructors in the county all of whom are backing the campaign.

June Clarke, of ULearn Driving School, Arbroath, said that petition forms had been circulated to all secondary schools, colleges, shops, garages, and on Facebook and it is planned to send a petition to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street. Letters will also be given to pupils to take home to their parents, asking for their support.

Mr Wells added that they planned to ask questions of the new Transport Minister Keith Brown who, he suggested should be on the side of the driving instructors.

Mrs Clarke stated: “We have managed to tell our pupils what is happening and they are all astounded. They cannot believe that this is happening.”

Councillor David Fairweather, who was at Wednesday’s gathering at Arbroath test centre, commented: “What the people who have made this decision seem to have forgotten is that there are livelihoods at stake here. The decision is also discriminatory against the pupils, as Angus will only be left with one test centre at Montrose.

“The closures are ill thought out and unjust.”

A spokesperson for the DSA commented: “DSA relies for income on the fees we receive from our customers. We have a duty to spend that money responsibly while maintaining a good level of service.

“Arbroath and Forfar test centres are being replaced with a new state-of-the art multi-purpose test centre (MPTC) in Dundee at the end of February. The new facility at Dundee will provide significantly improved facilities for customers and staff over those at Arbroath and Forfar, which are being closed to make best use of the new facility.

“Arbroath is 19 miles from Dundee, and Forfar 15 miles. DSA’s stated travel distance criteria based on density of population for the area is 30 miles, so no consultation was necessary.”