I will always remember the feeling of passing my driving test. Having grown up in a mining town with poor public transport, being able to drive meant your own little bit of personal freedom. It was a key moment not just on a practical level of being able to get from A to B more easily, but a landmark moment in growing up. Public transport would always play a part too (and be a policy passion later in life) but passing your driving test meant independence, and the world getting bigger and less restricted.

That’s the feeling Tameside driving instructors deliver for their students. Freedom. Opportunity. Widened horizons. That’s why I am so angry at the prospect of losing Hyde’s driving test centre. As the only centre in Tameside, it is an institution. If you grew up in the borough, you probably took your test there. It’s got a great pass rate and is very popular with both driving instructors and examiners. Driving instructors, like a lot of self-employed people, have already had a challenging couple of years through the pandemic. They were often left out of Government guidance on what was and wasn’t allowed under various peaks of Covid-19. The industry is just getting back on it’s feet and demand is huge as a backlog of learner drivers built up during the lockdown months.

If we lose Hyde’s test centre we will be the only outlying Greater Manchester borough without a test centre. It’s also used by people from Glossop, meaning it serves well over 250,000 people. Alongside fellow Tameside MPs Andrew Gwynne and Angela Rayner, I immediately wrote to the DVSA asking for the rationale for this decision, appealing to them to consider other options, and asking them to engage properly with local driving instructors. Tameside Council did the same. The DVSA’s reply was quick but wholly unsatisfactory. They claim Hyde offers ‘poor value for money’ but have supplied no further details. As taking a driving test costs at least £62, and the building is owned not rented, the test centre makes rather than costs money. So I can see no case at all to back up what the DVSA are saying.

The support for the campaign from residents across the whole of Tameside has been great, and I thank everyone for taking he time to make your strength of feeling heard.

However, the subsequent dialogue, or lack thereof, with the DVSA has been deeply frustrating. Their lack of meaningful correspondence with me, Tameside council and local driving instructors is not an acceptable way to behave.

I met recently with local driving instructors this week to discuss the next steps of the campaign, including Councillor Stephen Homer, himself an experienced local instructor, who has been instrumental in the campaign. We will be going back to the DVSA with our request that they meet with us. They have not articulated the case for the closure of Hyde and even if they did, we believe there are several possible options available to keep a test centre in Tameside.

This matters because, without somewhere to take a test locally, far fewer driving lessons will be available in and around Tameside. It’s also fairly standard to learn on the actual roads around the testing centre, but that means at least half of a Tameside driving lesson being spent getting to and from Bredbury.

Aside from having to learn on less familiar roads (including some difficult places like the Portwood roundabout by Stockport Tesco, not something I’d have liked to tackle when I was first behind a wheel), this presents a financial challenge for Tameside-based driving instructors, taking up so much more time than at present. Several driving instructors have told me they will have to limit the places they take students from, or might give up the job entirely. All deeply unsatisfactory.

You can see why I am not happy at all with this state of affairs. My latest dispatch to the DVSA puts this in no uncertain terms, and I ask all Tameside residents to continue to support the campaign and your local driving instructors in overturning this extremely poor decision.

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