Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Council's apostrophe ruling hailed

A street sign on Scholars' Walk in Cambridge which was corrected using marker pens
A street sign on Scholars' Walk in Cambridge which was corrected using marker pens

A council has been praised for its "sensible decision" to reverse a policy of banning apostrophes on street signs.

Cambridge City Council faced criticism from self-declared defenders of grammar for its decision to remove punctuation in new road names, with some campaigners using marker pens to fill in apostrophes missing from signs.

The local authority claimed it was only following national guidelines which warned punctuation could confuse emergency services.

Tim Bick, leader of Cambridge City Council, said an "executive decision" had now been taken to make clear that for future street names "we will not be obliged to avoid proper punctuation".

He said: "After consulting with my colleague Tim Ward, executive councillor for planning, we decided we must call time on the great apostrophe debate.

"Councillor Ward has taken an executive decision to amend our street naming policy to make clear that for future new street names in Cambridge we will not be obliged to avoid proper punctuation when it is required by the relevant name.

"It is now clear that the original decision made two years ago to ban the apostrophe from street names flew below everyone's radar, amazingly even after public consultation at the time.

"It is a nonsense to deny the English language when applying it to everyday terms describing where people live."

Mr Bick said the "minor matter" had become a "major story" and it was time to "put it to bed".

"We rue the day we allowed ourselves to be influenced by a bureaucratic guideline which nobody has been able to defend to us now that it has come under the spotlight", he added.

Kathy Salaman, director of the Cambridgeshire-based Good Grammar Company, said: " Obviously it's a great decision. A sensible decision. There was a great strength of feeling out there.

"I acknowledge that apostrophes are not a matter of life or death. But it's important when we're trying to raise literacy standards in the country and raise Britain's profile throughout the world as we languish in literacy tables."

Ms Salaman said claims that apostrophes on street signs may hinder emergency services had been "blown out of the water", as she claimed fire, police and ambulance services in the area had said it was "not a problem".

A street sign in Cambridge reading "Scholars Way leading to Pepys Court and Fitzgerald Place" was among those to be altered in marker pen, with apostrophes added to the words "Scholars" and "Pepys".

Mr Ward said: "If the system is able to accommodate all the old street names which still have apostrophes and there are also councils which have never signed up to the policy, then the system can accommodate the relatively small proportion that will need one as new streets get named.

"We understand that the body whose guidance we were following when determining our street naming policy in 2011 has subsequently reversed its own position on punctuation.

"So, there is now no reason at all for us to retain it as a part of our policy.

"We already subscribe to keeping street names as simple as possible for the purposes of easy recognition and we do so in consultation with the emergency services and Royal Mail."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: " This is a commonsense victory for good grammar.

" The apostrophe was first introduced in the 16th century. Cambridge's attempted coup d'etat of the Queen's English has failed.

"This cherished piece of punctuation couldn't, wouldn't and shouldn't ever have been eradicated from Cambridge's street names by bureaucratic intransigence."

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