MoT: Doubts over standard of new test centre equipment

Hydebank Test Centre
The new test centre at Hydebank was due to open in 2022

Tests are under way to establish if a new multi-million pound MoT centre in Belfast is "fit for purpose".

The infrastructure minister has said officials are currently not satisfied that new equipment in the centre is up to standard.

John O'Dowd said officials are "engaging with the providers of that equipment and working through the difficulties and the challenges that are there".

The new centre is located at Hydebank.

It includes seven lanes for testing cars and light goods vehicles, one lane for testing heavy goods vehicles and buses, and a separate testing bay for motorcycles.

Speaking on the BBC's The View programme, Mr O'Dowd said: "We have the equipment in but my officials are not satisfied that the equipment is meeting the standards they expect, at this stage, so there's further testing taking place."

A new adjacent office building, Hydebank House, includes accommodation for 170 staff.

John O'Dowd
John O'Dowd says he will not give a date for the opening of the new centre

Earlier this month, Mr O'Dowd told the Assembly that the opening of the new centre later this year would help to tackle the ongoing backlog in the MoT testing system in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, chair of the infrastructure committee Deborah Erskine said she had been previously aware of "software-hardware issue" at the new centre.

She added that she was "disappointed" that the centre was not open in order to deal with the backlog in testing.

Previously, the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) chief executive Jeremy Logan said motorists faced an average wait of 72 days for tests.

The delays began in late 2019 when cracks were found in the majority of vehicle lifts across Northern Ireland's MoT centres.

A further backlog was caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Mr Logan added "changed customer behaviours" - such as customers holding onto cars for longer and more cars on the road - were responsible for the pressures.

The infrastructure minister has ruled out privatising MoT services, similar to the testing model in Great Britain in which authorised private garages carry out tests, to tackle the backlog.

He said DVA staff were working to reduce waiting times by increasing its capacity.

When will the new MoT centre open?

The new Hydebank centre was due to open in 2022 but the construction was delayed as a result of the Covid pandemic and other global factors in recent years.

However, Mr O'Dowd said he can't provide an opening date until he is sure the equipment meets the required standard.

He said "I won't give a firm date until my officials and I are satisfied that the centre is fit for purpose.

"I'm not frustrated, I am determined to get that centre opened but I will only sign off on it when I am satisfied that the equipment in it is fit for purpose".