Driving Tests: High Wycombe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 4th February 2021.

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Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:12 pm, 4th February 2021

I thank my hon. Friend Mr Baker for securing this debate, and also for the incredibly informative way he has laid out the case for the continuation of driving tests in High Wycombe, which has left no Members of the House in any doubt about his passion on the subject—we would expect nothing less from him, of course. I know that he has been engaging closely with the Transport Secretary and with our noble Friend the Minister in the other place on this issue in recent weeks, making the case for the importance of retaining the ability to conduct tests in High Wycombe. I also want to put on the record my thanks to the driving instructors he has been discussing the matter with.

My hon. Friend has made very clear to us the impact on his constituents of having to undertake long journeys to alternative testing sites, were there not to be any testing sites available in High Wycombe. He has mentioned the financial and environmental impacts of people having to take long journeys to access alternative sites. He made a very good point about the importance of not forgetting that levelling up applies to every constituency in the country, not just those we traditionally think it might do.

I am very pleased to conform from the Dispatch Box today that, as a result of my hon. Friend’s efforts, and the hard work and dedication that he has put into the campaign, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is progressing a proposal to maintain driving tests in High Wycombe. The agency is at an advanced stage of discussions with a new landlord. As he has already laid out, the current driving test centre in High Wycombe is a large two-storey industrial estate on the Cressex busines park. The site can accommodate 15-plus driving examiners. However, the demand for tests at High Wycombe from customers means that just two examiners work there permanently. The accommodation is much too large, and it attracts high running costs, as he has acknowledged. It makes little financial sense to the DVSA or its customers to continue operating out of such a site.

The DVSA has a tried and tested procedure for when it needs to vacate a driving test centre. That is why, in September 2020, it began stakeholder engagement with those who could be affected. The pandemic ruled out the possibility of a face-to-face meeting. However, I am pleased to say that the agency was able to hold an online meeting in October 2020 for many of those affected—including, no doubt, many of the driving instructors my hon. Friend has been talking about. The DVSA explained during that meeting why it was necessary to take advantage of the lease break at the Wellington Road site and, while it was confident it could service demand at other nearby driving test centres, the DVSA said it would consider low-cost alternative options to enable it to continue offering a local service in High Wycombe, were any such premises available. The DVSA recognises the concerns of local driving instructors in High Wycombe, and it understands fully their determination to maintain a driving test centre there. It is very grateful to the instructor community for engaging with it to help it look for low-cost alternative premises.

As I mentioned earlier, the DVSA is now progressing with a proposal to maintain driving tests. I am sure my hon. Friend will be further pleased to know that these premises are also located on the Cressex business park, which is the location of the existing driving test centre. That would mean minimal disruption during the transition from the old premises to the proposed new site. The DVSA is keen to keep to a minimum any break in service between the closure of the existing centre and the opening of the new one, but this will be subject to a number of factors, such as planning, over which the DVSA has no control. Naturally, I understand that my hon. Friend would want to know exactly how long that period is going to be; in fact, I think he might be wishing to ask me that question.