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FTA warns of capacity issues as VOSA announces test centre closures

The closure of two busy Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) test centres could leave commercial vehicle operators with a major problem in the absence of alternative, fit-for-purpose testing facilities. So warns the Freight Transport Association (FTA), in response to today’s announcement from VOSA that test stations at Mitcham in South London and Garratts Green in Birmingham will be closed by July 2011.

FTA has urged VOSA to ensure that there will be alternative Heavy Goods Vehicle testing locations with sufficient capacity, capability and flexibility available before these closures. Indeed, there was an expectation from industry that where test centres were closed, sufficient capacity would be found through the private sector in the shape of Authorised Testing Facilities (ATFs) and Designated Premises. This now looks far from certain, and could force operators to travel to more distant VOSA test stations, adding to their transport costs, taking vehicles out of the supply chain for longer and increasing carbon emissions.

James Firth, FTA’s Head of Road Freight Policy, said:
"VOSA must ensure that capacity will remain in the local market and that those test stations available to operators can absorb the wide range of vehicles and trailers currently tested on these, soon to be ex, VOSA test centres.

"Haulage is a 24/7 business and alternative testing facilities must offer as good, if not better, flexibility of service than currently available." VOSA test stations currently aim to undertake tests between 8am and 6pm, with the option of Saturday testing where demand warrants. Firth added, "For those franchised dealerships offering testing facilities, it is important that safeguards are put in place so that service levels are consistently applied to all customers, regardless of whether they have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on new vehicles from them."

VOSA’s lane decommissioning programme identifies those test centres where local demand is significantly lower than capacity. However, neither Mitcham nor Garratts Green testing facilities are listed.

Firth concluded:
"The loss of these busy test centres will cause a serious headache for many hauliers, especially those in the south of England where there are currently no open-access ATFs.

"The main attraction of the ATF concept for industry when it was launched in 2008 was that it was supposed to bring testing closer to operators and make it more convenient. We see little evidence of this in VOSA’s announcement.

"VOSA will need to have some very specific and certain applications for ATF status if industry’s concerns are to be met. We would like to share VOSA’s confidence in there being a ‘healthy pipeline of interest’ from the private sector, but industry would prefer to see some concrete evidence that there will not be a decline in testing provision."

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