Cumbria Truck Centre has seized a new opportunity opened up by government plans to privatise MoT testing for commercial vehicles.

The company has invested £200,000 to set up an Authorised Testing Facility (ATF) at its site at Townfoot, Longtown.

Operators can bring their vehicles for testing, which is carried out by staff from the Department for Transport's Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (Vosa).

Before 2010, all commercial vehicle testing was carried out at Vosa sites.

But Vosa's parent body, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, has a long-term plan to close its network of testing stations.

Testing will instead be carried out at privately-owned ATFs, although Vosa inspectors will still do the job to ensure standards are maintained.

There are now more than 400 ATFs but the new site in Longtown is only the third in Cumbria. The others are at John Beaty Transport in Penrith, and at Stagecoach in Barrow.

Cumbria Truck Centre's ATF opened last Thursday  and it says demand is high.

Brian Wheadon, vehicle and fleet maintenance director, said: “This is a great opportunity to offer our existing customers an improved set of services, as well as attracting new customers to our one stop shop facilities.” 

The project has been 12 months in the making and involved construction of a purpose-built building to house the ATF.

It is able to test all types of commercial vehicles, trailers and coaches, except those carrying flammable cargoes.

One additional employee has been recruited, ATF advisor Derek Minskip, a former manager with the parcel courier Yodel.

He said: “Initially we are operating three days a week on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, but we've had to put in extra days in November because of the demand.

“The plan is to step up to a four-day operation next year, and eventually five days.” 

Vosa still has three testing stations in Cumbria – at Kingstown in Carlisle, Lillyhall near Workington, and Milnthorpe – but these will close as more ATFs come on stream.

Unions opposed the introduction of ATFs, arguing they would lead to the privatisation of testing itself.

They also say that, once Vosa's sites have gone, there is a danger that gaps in the network could appear should private operators pull out.

But the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency claims the new system is working well, allowing testing to be carried out at or near where vehicles are maintained.

It says that 90 per cent of vehicle operators are happy with the system, and 96 per cent of ATFs are satisfied with the service provided by VOSA inspectors.

In all, 72 per cent of commercial vehicle tests are now carried out at ATFs.

Alastair Peoples, chief executive of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, said: “ATF customers from across the country tell me they have seen savings on fuel costs, vehicle down time, lower CO2 emissions and improved first-time pass rates.

"I fully expect to hear similar feedback from operators and drivers using this facility.”

Cumbria Truck Centre is a division of Wm Armstrong, a firm dating from 1927, which offers haulage, warehousing and distribution services.

It employs more than 200 people and operates 100,000sq ft of warehousing storage facilities.

Cumbria Truck Centre hopes that its ATF will bring new customers who will take advantage of other services, such as the sale of Isuzu trucks, and commercial tyre supply and fitment.

Potential customers are invited to an open day on Wednesday, from noon to 6pm, when visitors can view the ATF and ask questions.