Monday, 27 January 2014

Cambridge Council's inability to understand guidance and punctuation

A Cambridge sign corrected by language campaigners
after the council's apostrophe vandalism

Well well well. This is interesting. I've being doing a bit of investigative journalism.

I recently posted about councils dropping the apostrophes from road names. I suspected the council found them to be too complicated. They had used the excuse of it being a recommendation:

"Cambridge City Council said they were only following national guidelines [...] Nick Milne, the city council officer responsible for street naming, said [...] the policy brought the council into line with the National Land and Property Gazetteer where all new street names are registered." [Source]

"Councillor Tim Ward, the Executive Councillor for planning, told the Cambridge News: “We are following national guidelines [...] If they change their view we might change our policy." [Source]

So I contacted the National Land and Property Gazetteer. It turns out it is worse than I feared - the guidance does not advise against apostophes in street names or on signs at all. The council had either completely misunderstood the guidance, or wilfully misinterpreted it. According to the email I received from the NLPG this morning:

"GeoPlace does not advise that councils include or remove punctuation in official naming or on the street name plate. Street naming and numbering is a council policy decision."

So the council's claims to be dumbing down language for some official reason are utter nonsense.



To clarify the situation, the NLPG told me:

"However, the Data Entry Conventions documentation does state that GeoPlace would prefer not receive data (including street names) with punctuation. Whilst GeoPlace advises that punctuation should not be included in the data provided by local authorities, GeoPlace will process data with punctuation where the council has officially named the street with punctuation."

So the reality is that the NLPG just ask councils to omit punctuation in the data they send to the NLPG, not to exclude it from road signs or road names. Cambridge City Council (and any others following suit) are misinterpreting the guidance for some strange end of their own.

Cambridge City Council ignored my email to them on this topic. I have contacted them a second time, and also contacted the newspapers that reported this issue and the organisations that objected to the change - this new information should be of interest to them!

Additional information 1: locals who object to the council ignorance have been correcting the punctuation on the street signs. [Source 1] [Source 2]

Additional information 2: this is not a new thing. Silly councils have been attacking punctuation for some time, e.g. Birmingham Council decided it couldn't deal with them back in 2009. The interesting thing about the Cambridge case is the dishonesty in their reasons for it.

Update: 6th February 2014, the Council reverses its policy, victory!
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