Commissioner to ‘consider investigation’ into Tory council’s English-only sign policy
The Welsh Language Commissioner has said he will consider “conducting an investigation” into a Tory council’s English-only sign policy.
Aled Roberts has confirmed to Nation.Cymru that he has responded to a complaint about Monmouthshire County Council, which came under fire for changing its policy and for citing “safety benefits” to doing so.
The Council made the decision after a report recommended that replacement or additional signs on existing streets be kept English-only, and it used a hypothetical example of a Welsh speaker calling emergency services to justify the move.
It suggests a Welsh place name could lead to a dangerous delay if it does not officially exist in the National Land and Property Gazetteer, which is used by the emergency services, and claims that keeping English-only signs “will reduce the chances of confusion”.
The Welsh Language Commissioner said that the guidance from his office is “relevant to to street signs that have long existed”, but added that the policy is a “matter for local authorities”.
He also said that although the guidance does not “force” local authorities to “create Welsh language names for streets” that giving the language official status in Wales has “transformed the naming policies of some local authorities”.
Paul Matthews, the CEO of the council, said the authority was adjusting its policy to “to comply with Welsh Language Commissioner direction”.
Richard John, the Leader of the council insisted that they county’s street signs are “fully bilingual” before adding that guidance published by the Welsh Language Commissioner says “that existing English-only street names can remain.”
A report by the council recommended that replacement or additional signs on existing streets be kept English-only, and it uses a hypothetical example of a Welsh speaker calling emergency services to justify the policy.
It suggests a Welsh place name could lead to a dangerous delay if it does not officially exist in the National Land and Property Gazetteer, which is used by the emergency services. The report claims that keeping English-only signs “will reduce the chances of confusion”.
The move by Monmouthshire County Council reverses the council’s previous policy, which was to add a Welsh translation to a nameplate to comply with its Welsh Language Scheme.
The report adds the monolingual language policy relates only to existing named streets, and that streets on new developments will be bilingual or in Welsh only.
‘Visible in the community’
The Welsh Language Commissioner told Nation.Cymru: “Giving Welsh language names to streets is an effective way of making the Welsh language more visible in the community. It also offers the potential of starting a conversation about the language and the rich heritage of the area in question.
“The Commissioner’s guidance is relevant to to street signs that have long existed, and policy for naming streets is a matter for local authorities.
“Though Welsh language standards do not force local authorities to create Welsh language names for streets, the official status of the Welsh language in Wales has transformed the naming policies of some local authorities.
“It has been very encouraging to see local authorities in every part of Wales begin to adopt ambitious policies for naming streets that prioritise the Welsh language in recent years, by officially adopting bilingual names and committing to give Welsh-only names to streets on new developments.
“The Commissioner has received a complaint about Monmouthshire County Council’s street naming policy and will be considering conducting an investigation”.
The report council’s says: “The negative impact of reducing potential use of the Welsh language by translating existing street names is offset by the safety benefits for emergency services.
“This proposal aims to standardise the provision of street nameplates in line with recommendations by the Welsh Language Commissioner. It will reduce the chances of confusion around road names, particularly where the Welsh version is significantly different to the English. This will particularly benefit groups such as those with learning disabilities, dementia and visual impairment.”
In response to a story on Nation.Richard John, the Leader of Monmouthshire County Council, said: “Sad to see this sensationalist and misleading click bait. Our street signs are fully bilingual but the Welsh Language Commissioner has published guidance (adopted by many other Welsh councils) that existing English-only street names can remain.”
Paul Matthews, the CEO of Monmouthshire County Council said: “Gosh – ‘happy new year’ didn’t last long. I don’t imagine a headline of ‘council adjusts its policy to comply with Welsh Language Commissioner direction’ would have been quite so ‘clicky popular’.”
The Council has been on the receiving end of a fierce online backlash after it changed its policy.
Ethan Jones said: “If you ever wanted confirmation the Tories are an anti-Wales party, look no further. This is truly awful.”
Non Watcyn said: “Shame on you @MonmouthshireCC. Bilingual signs cause confusion? Nothing but excuses!! Do the right thing – you are a part of Wales get used to it!”
Cat Rees said: “But by this reasoning how do they avoid the issue arising for all bilingual signage added in the future? I would love to see the actual evidence that this is based upon – in the XX number of years when there has been bilingual signage how many times has this happened?”
Kelsey Trevett said: “Welsh is a distinct and important language: the Tories’ blatant disregard for its protection is indicative — as if we needed more signs — of their lack of meaningful understanding about any history which isn’t that of England. The Welsh language must be preserved.
“I should add that the Welsh language is far from just a piece of history: for thousands, it is a primary language, and its attempted erasure by the Tories is a move to alienate communities, putting their safety, communication, and lives at risk in the name of vane nationalism.”
Tomos Barlow said: “Terrible decision by Monmouth Council. The concern of safety is utter rubbish, making a name for a place which may not have had a Welsh place name before is not dangerous or confusing. Weak excuse and just shows the Tories don’t care about the Welsh language.”