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‘If we can split the atom, satnavs can cope with grammar’ – Devon council under fire for removing apostrophes from street signs

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: March 23, 2014

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Roman's Way in Tiverton - Picture: Apex

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Mid Devon Council has come under fire from a minister for trying to erase apostrophes from road signs.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis has hit out against councils for removing apostrophes from street names and road signs.

Mid Devon and Cambridge Council have both begun the move which is believed to be for the sake of satnav systems that could be confused by punctuation.

In a lengthy response to parliamentary questions Mr Lewis said that if humanity can put a man on the moon and split the atom it can build a sat-nav which understands proper punctuation.

The local government minister insisted there is ‘no Whitehall rule or Brussels diktat’ forcing town halls to wipe punctuation from the map, adding “We would encourage residents to defend their traditional place names from over zealous municipal pen pushers.”

Locals in Chesteron have fought back adding the correct apostrophes on road signs.

In Mid Devon an apostrophe is missing from Roman’s Way in Tiverton (pictured).

The minister was responding to a question from Conservative MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland.

Mr Buckland said: ‘I think I join a long queue of people who get upset when they see misuse of this punctuation mark!

‘There is a serious point to be made about how we need to make sure things are spelt correctly - otherwise what is the point in having these rules?’

Mr Lewis responded: ‘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 it doesn't require councils to remove apostrophes either - councils can continue to use apostrophes and punctuation if they're used in the official street name.

‘One of the spurious reasons for abolishing apostrophes has been the suggestion 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'm sure it's not beyond the reach of 21st Century technology to have a sat-nav which can understand an apostrophe.’

Mr Lewis said he could not support ‘grammar guerillas’ who return missing apostrophes to new signs because it is an offence to deface a street sign under 1907 legislation.

But he added: ‘We would encourage residents to defend their traditional place names from over zealous municipal pen pushers.’

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