Driving theory test centre closure leaves Blackpool learner drivers in the lurch

The closure of Blackpool's driving theory test centre has left learners having to travel to Preston to take the test

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 8:44 pm

Learning to drive is an exciting rite of passage but the process has been complicated and stressful for students who had lessons halted by the pandemic.

After 18 months of disruption, Blackpool learner drivers faced another blow as the theory test centre in Bispham permanently closed down last month. Students now face a round-trip to Preston to take the exam.

Martin Crane, a driving instructor with Wheelz Driving School in Fleetwood, said the closure has made it extremely difficult for young drivers to learn.

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Blackpool learner drivers face trip to Preston for theory test after test centre closure

“I am having to ask pupils to put aside four or five hours, at considerable personal cost just to sit a theory test. Many of them passed their theory in mid 2019 but only had one chance because of the lockdowns and the wait times afterwards.”

A theory certificate is only valid for two years from the date of passing the exam, which the DVSA said is to ensure the driver’s road safety knowledge is current.

Gill Ward had to drive her son to Preston twice, and Wigan once, before he passed the exam.

“The theory test is tough anyway so for a new driver to have to deal with all this travel on top, it just makes it so stressful.”

The site at Faraday Way, Bispham closed on September 6. In 2019 they processed more than 8,000 tests, and the increased demand will lead to longer waiting times at the Preston centre.

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Research done by Marmalade Insurance found that in 2020, learners lost £1,139,489 through expired theory test certificates while lessons and tests were paused.

Crispin Moger, CEO of Marmalade Insurance, said: “The Blackpool closure will have a knock on effect when it comes to the expense, with more travel costs incurred as a result of the closure.”

Despite petitions calling for the DVSA to extend the theory test certificates adversely impacted by the pandemic, it hasn’t been possible.

A spokesperson for the DVSA said; “This validity period is set in legislation and the Government has no current plans to extend it. It is important that road safety knowledge and hazard perception skills are up to date when a person drives unsupervised for the first time.”

Cat Smith, MP for Fleetwood, has called for a grace period for the learners who were disrupted by the pandemic, and now face a £20 bus or train journey to Preston.

“We have below national average car ownership and above national average need for benefit support. I’m guessing none of this was taken into account when the Conservatives decided to close the test centre in Blackpool.”

With no tests available until late January, and instructors booked up an average of six months in advance, more theory certificates will expire in the meantime.

Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, also campaigned against the test centre closure, arguing that young people often need to drive to be able to work and support their families.

“Not enough is being done to ensure tests are being undertaken in the quantity necessary. Moving the test centre will hamper those who need to drive to go about their daily lives.”