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13 May 2008 : Column 1362

This point refers to something that the hon. Gentleman mentioned repeatedly: the intention is that most—not all—motorcycle test candidates should be able to reach an MPTC centre within 45 minutes, travelling no more than 20 miles. I cannot have a map included in the Official Report, but, after the debate, I will be more than happy to share with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) a useful map showing exactly what the demand is among their constituents for testing at Chippenham.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said in his closing remarks that people in Frome do not go to Chippenham—I think he was talking specifically about driving testing. In fact, the map clearly shows that there was considerable demand among his constituents for testing at Chippenham even before the proposed closure at Trowbridge. It is not a matter of opinion, but simply a matter of reading out the statistics showing the number of his constituents who already opt to be tested at Chippenham. I am more than happy to share that information with him after the debate.

We have concluded that between 40 and 50 multipurpose driving test centres would be required to meet the service standard criteria. However, to maximise population coverage and minimise the number of candidates who have to travel for more than 45 minutes or further than 20 miles, we are seeking to develop about 60 multipurpose test centres. I want to emphasise that we are doing so in order to minimise the number of candidates who have to travel for more than 45 minutes or 20 miles, not to reduce that number to zero.

As the DSA did not own or lease any sites that could provide a sufficient area of hard standing upon which to undertake the new manoeuvres, a programme of land acquisition and construction was initiated in 2005. Since December 2005, the DSA has acquired 41 sites. In addition to allowing the DSA to maximise the use of the MPTCs by conducting car, lorry and bus tests from them, those sites will offer improved accommodation and facilities for customers and staff. As well as being fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the new centres will support the Government’s wider sustainability agenda.

The provision of the MPTCs does not come cheap. The final cost will be in the region of £71 million. That cost will largely be recovered through increased fees paid by driving test candidates. If those fee increases are to be kept to a minimum, the DSA must continue to seek efficiencies in the way it conducts its business. That includes reviewing existing driving test centre provision to ensure that while the service standard is maintained, there is no wasteful over-provision of facilities.

The service standard for car practical driving test centre provision is based on population density. Where population density is between 101 and 1,249 people per square kilometre, candidates should not have to travel more than 20 miles to a test centre. Where the density is less than 101, the distance to a test centre should be no more than 30 miles. The service standard applying to the Trowbridge area is that candidates should not have to travel more than 20 miles.

The September 2008 lease break for the premises occupied by the Trowbridge driving test centre provides an opportunity to reconsider service provision in the area it serves. Most customers who attend the Trowbridge
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driving test centre will have access to alternative facilities at Chippenham and Bristol, Brislington. Both centres are within 20 miles of Trowbridge, although I accept that the Bristol centre is almost exactly 20 miles away. The centres have the capacity to absorb the demand from Trowbridge without compromising waiting time targets.

The closure of Trowbridge driving test centre will result in savings of around £14,000 a year. Equally importantly, the closure will not compromise the DSA’s service standard criteria. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the difficulty, in rural areas, of striking the right balance between the provision of a satisfactory level of public service and the cost that service incurs. In closing the Trowbridge driving test centre, I believe the DSA has struck a sensible balance. Although I understand the natural desire to practise driving in the area close to the test centre, I am not persuaded that it is necessarily a sound argument for deciding where to locate driving test centres.

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Mr. Heath: We have pinned down the argument. Trowbridge is being closed in order to save money in order to equip multipurpose test centres that will be an hour and a half away for my constituents. That does not seem a terribly good deal. Is the Minister really saying that the majority of people who use the Trowbridge test centre will be within 20 miles of Chippenham? I am not asking whether Trowbridge is within 20 miles of Chippenham, but whether the majority of people who use that test centre will be.

Mr. Tom Harris: I would not deviate from the phraseology that I have already used. Most people who use Trowbridge should not have to travel more than 20 miles to get to an alternative test centre—

The motion having been made after Ten o’clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty minutes to Twelve o’clock.

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