The DVSA has announced the end of the moratorium on new ATFs and is now accepting applications from operators.

The enforcement agency paused the process in 2017 to help it support existing ATFs and meet their needs. But in line with the recommendations in the DfT's recent 'Heavy vehicle testing review', the DVSA said it was aiming for a “phased approach to ending the moratorium” and would now start assessing applications – but only if they meet certain criteria.

It said it was initially welcoming applications if a proposed ATF is a move of premises for an existing ATF, but is within the same geographic area.

It is also accepting applications if the proposed site has already received an ‘approval in principle’ from the DVSA.

The criteria also include applications from areas with a substantial shortage of ATFs, such as Orkney and the Highlands of Scotland, in southern England that will include testing of fully laden fuel tankers or ADR testing and applications that will significantly improve the service to HGV operators through reduced journey times or other efficiency benefits.

The DVSA said applications made under this last point will be prioritised based on the certainty and scale of improvement in service the proposed ATF can offer.

Neil Barlow, head of vehicle policy and engineering at the DVSA, said: “This is the first step towards opening up the market to new ATFs, thereby increasing competition and improving the testing service to heavy vehicle operators.

“We’ve listened to the industry and the outcome of the review. This is an important first step in improving our service – and we will move swiftly to do more.

“We’d like to thank the heavy vehicle industry who have worked with us on this.”

The agency added that it was aware there will be businesses which do not qualify under the existing criteria and that there would be further announcements on how these criteria will be widened in the future.

The ATF Operators Association was not immediately available for comment; however, its chair Stephen Smith told Motor Transport in March that the DfT’s recommendation would cause more problems for the industry, due to the lack of available testers.

Smith said: “Their pool of testers gets smaller every year. They can’t handle the attrition rate. In all of the discussions I have had, the wages are not nearly enough to retain these guys.

“So, in order for them to increase ATFs, they need to increase testers.”

A DVSA spokesperson responded: "The report shows there's not a lack. There are enough to test the national fleet.

"However, the review does actually suggest that one way to improve the range of options is to increase the number of testers."