Road Signs and Markings

Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what guidance his Department issues to local authorities on the use of apostrophes on street signs.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

Recent press reports have highlighted there is a misconception in some parts of local government that there is a requirement to remove apostrophes from street names and street signs. This is not the case; I can confirm that there is no Whitehall rule or Brussels diktat demanding the abolition of the English apostrophe.

I understand this may stem from a misunderstanding of guidance issued by the Geoplace National Land and Property Gazetteer which is overseen by local government. However, Geoplace has confirmed that it does not require councils to remove apostrophes either—councils can continue to use apostrophes and punctuation if they are used in the official street name.

In turn, street names may not be changed unilaterally. Acts of Parliament have required the consent of local people before a street name can be changed. For example, extant legislation in the form of section 21 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907 states that councils cannot change a formal street name without the consent of two-thirds of the street's ratepayers.

One of the spurious reasons for abolishing apostrophes has been the suggestion that they may cause confusion for emergency services' IT systems. If mankind can put a man on the moon, split the atom and decode the double helix, then I am sure it is not beyond the reach of 21st century technology to have a sat-nav which can understand an apostrophe.

While street naming is ultimately a matter for local councils, Ministers' view is that both England's apostrophes and grammar should be cherished. If an apostrophe is good enough for Her Majesty's Government, so should it be for local councils.

While we would not go as far as endorsing the “grammar guerrillas” who recently re-inserted the missing punctuation on Cambridge city council's dumbed-down street signs (defacing a street sign is an offence under the 1907 Act), we would encourage residents to defend their traditional place names from over-zealous municipal pen pushers. I hope the guidance in this answer assists the worthy cause of common sense.

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