Districts of England

Last updated

  • Also known as:
  • Local authority district
    Local government district
English districts map coloured by type 2023.svg
CategoryAdministrative district
Found in Counties
Created by Local Government Act 1972
London Government Act 1963
  • mostly 1 April 1974
  • and 1 April 1965
  • some earlier (see text)
Number 296 (as of 2021)
Possible types
  •    Metropolitan (36)
  •    Non-metropolitan (226)
        Two-tier (164)
         Unitary authority (62)
  •    London borough (32)
  •   sui generis (2)
Possible status
Populations2,300 – 1.1 million
Areas3 – 5,013 km2
(1 – 1,936 sq mi)

The districts of England (also known as local authority districts or local government districts to distinguish from unofficial city districts) are a level of subnational division of England used for the purposes of local government. [1] As the structure of local government in England is not uniform, there are currently four principal types of district-level subdivision. There are a total of 296 districts made up of 36 metropolitan boroughs, 32 London boroughs, 164 two-tier non-metropolitan districts and 62 unitary authorities, as well as the City of London and the Isles of Scilly which are also districts, but do not correspond to any of these other categories. Some districts are styled as cities, boroughs or royal boroughs; these are purely honorific titles and do not alter the status of the district or the powers of their councils. All boroughs and cities (and a few districts) are led by a mayor who in most cases is a ceremonial figure elected by the district council, but—after local government reform—is occasionally a directly elected mayor who makes most of the policy decisions instead of the council.



Before the establishment of districts in the 1890s, the basic unit of local government in England was the parish, overseen by the parish church vestry committee. Vestries dealt with the administration of both parochial and secular governmental matters. Parishes were the successors of the manorial system and historically had been grouped into hundreds, which had exercised some supervising administrative function. However, these powers ebbed away as more and more civic and judicial powers were centred on county towns. [2] From 1834 these parishes were grouped into Poor Law Unions, creating areas for administration of the Poor Law. These areas were later used for census registration and as the basis for sanitary provision. In 1894, based on these earlier subdivisions, the Local Government Act 1894 created urban districts and rural districts as sub-divisions of administrative counties, which had been created in 1889. At the same time, parish-level local government administration was transferred to civil parishes. Another reform in 1900 created 28 metropolitan boroughs as sub-divisions of the County of London.

The setting-down of the current structure of districts in England began in 1965, when Greater London and its 32 London boroughs were created. They are the oldest type of district still in use. In 1974, metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties (also known as "shire counties") were created across the rest of England and were split into metropolitan districts and non-metropolitan districts.

The status of the London boroughs and metropolitan districts changed in 1986, when they absorbed the functions and some of the powers of the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council, which were abolished. Since 2000, powers are again shared (on a different basis) with the Greater London Authority.

During the 1990s a further kind of district was created, the unitary authority, which combined the functions and status of county and district.

Metropolitan boroughs

Metropolitan boroughs are a subdivision of a metropolitan county. These are similar to unitary authorities, as the metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986. Most of the powers of the county councils were devolved to the districts but some services are run by joint boards and organisations. The districts typically have populations of 174,000 to 1.1 million.

Non-metropolitan districts

Non-metropolitan districts are second-tier authorities, which share power with county councils. They are subdivisions of shire counties and the most common type of district. These districts typically have populations of 25,000 to 200,000.

In this two-tier system, county councils are responsible for some local services, such as education, social services, and roads, while district councils run other services, such as waste collection, local planning, and council housing.

The number of two-tier non-metropolitan districts (also known as shire districts) has varied over time. Initially, there were 296; after the creation of single-tier unitary authorities in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s, their numbers were reduced to 164 by 2023.

Unitary authority areas

These single-tier non-metropolitan districts are responsible for running all local services in their areas, combining county and district functions. They were created in the mid-1990s, and often cover large towns and cities as this is deemed more efficient than a two-tier structure. In addition, some of the smaller counties such as Rutland, Herefordshire and the Isle of Wight are unitary authorities. There are a total of 62 unitary authorities, the latest ones introduced in 2023.

Unitary authority areas are a type of non-metropolitan district; most are established as individual counties containing a single district, with a district council but no county council. Cornwall, Durham, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire were established as counties with a single district, but have non-metropolitan county councils with no district council. In practice, these function in the same way as other unitary authorities. Berkshire is unusual, being the only non-metropolitan county, with no county council, that has more than one unitary authority district within it, each of which is not a county.

Districts with their ceremonial or historic county in their names

UA = unitary authority
NM = non-metropolitan district in a two-tier county
Cumberland UAX mark.svgYes check.svg(Cumberland)
Northumberland UAYes check.svgYes check.svg
Westmorland and Furness UAX mark.svgYes check.svg (Westmorland)
County Durham UAYes check.svg (County Durham)Yes check.svg
West Lancashire NMYes check.svg(Lancashire)Yes check.svg
North Yorkshire UAYes check.svg(North Yorkshire)Yes check.svg (Yorkshire)
East Riding of Yorkshire UAYes check.svgYes check.svg(Yorkshire)
Cheshire East UAYes check.svg (Cheshire)Yes check.svg
Cheshire West and Chester UAYes check.svg (Cheshire)Yes check.svg
Derbyshire Dales NMYes check.svg (Derbyshire)Yes check.svg
North East Derbyshire NMYes check.svg (Derbyshire)Yes check.svg
North Lincolnshire UAYes check.svg (Lincolnshire)Yes check.svg
North East Lincolnshire UAYes check.svg (Lincolnshire)Yes check.svg
Shropshire UAYes check.svg (Shropshire)Yes check.svg
Staffordshire Moorlands NMYes check.svg (Staffordshire)Yes check.svg
East Staffordshire NMYes check.svg (Staffordshire)Yes check.svg
South Staffordshire NMYes check.svg (Staffordshire)Yes check.svg
North West Leicestershire NMYes check.svg (Leicestershire)Yes check.svg
Rutland UAYes check.svg (Rutland)Yes check.svg
Kings Lynn and West Norfolk NMYes check.svg (Norfolk)Yes check.svg
North Norfolk NMYes check.svg (Norfolk)Yes check.svg
South Norfolk NMYes check.svg (Norfolk)Yes check.svg
Herefordshire UAYes check.svg (Herefordshire)Yes check.svg
North Warwickshire NMYes check.svg (Warwickshire)Yes check.svg
North Northamptonshire UAYes check.svg (Northamptonshire)Yes check.svg
West Northamptonshire UAYes check.svg (Northamptonshire)Yes check.svg
Huntingdonshire NMX mark.svgYes check.svg
South Cambridgeshire NMYes check.svg (Cambridgeshire)Yes check.svg
East Cambridgeshire NMYes check.svg (Cambridgeshire)Yes check.svg
East Suffolk NMYes check.svg (Suffolk)Yes check.svg
Mid Suffolk NMYes check.svg (Suffolk)Yes check.svg
West Suffolk NMYes check.svg (Suffolk)Yes check.svg
South Gloucestershire UAYes check.svg (Gloucestershire)Yes check.svg
South Oxfordshire NMYes check.svg (Oxfordshire)Yes check.svg
West Oxfordshire NMYes check.svg (Oxfordshire)Yes check.svg
Buckinghamshire UAYes check.svgYes check.svg
Central Bedfordshire UAYes check.svg (Bedfordshire)Yes check.svg
North Hertfordshire NMYes check.svg (Hertfordshire)Yes check.svg
East Hertfordshire NMYes check.svg (Hertfordshire)Yes check.svg
Bristol UAYes check.svgX mark.svg
Wiltshire UAYes check.svgYes check.svg
West Berkshire UAYes check.svg (Berkshire)Yes check.svg
Cornwall UAYes check.svgYes check.svg
Somerset UAYes check.svg (Somerset)Yes check.svg
Bath and North East Somerset UAYes check.svg (Somerset)Yes check.svg
North Somerset UAYes check.svg (Somerset)Yes check.svg
Dorset UAYes check.svg (Dorset)Yes check.svg
East Hampshire NMYes check.svg (Hampshire)Yes check.svg
Mid Sussex NMYes check.svg (West Sussex)Yes check.svg (Sussex)

London boroughs

The 32 London boroughs are sub-divisions of Greater London. They were established in 1965. Between 1965 and 1986 a two-tier structure of government existed in Greater London and the boroughs shared power with the Greater London Council (GLC). When the GLC was abolished in 1986 they gained similar status to the unitary authorities. In 2000 the Greater London Authority was established and a two-tier structure was restored, albeit with a change to the balance of powers and responsibilities.

Each London borough is responsible for many of the services within their area, such as schools, waste management, planning applications, social services, libraries and others.


The districts in 2023 England Administrative Map.png
The districts in 2023

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">London boroughs</span> Administrative subdivisions of Greater London

The London boroughs are the 32 local authority districts that together with the City of London make up the administrative area of Greater London, England; each is governed by a London borough council. The present London boroughs were all created at the same time as Greater London on 1 April 1965 by the London Government Act 1963 and are a type of local government district. Twelve were designated as Inner London boroughs and twenty as Outer London boroughs. The City of London, the historic centre, is a separate ceremonial county and sui generis local government district that functions quite differently from a London borough. However, the two counties together comprise the administrative area of Greater London as well as the London Region, all of which is also governed by the Greater London Authority, under the Mayor of London.

A unitary authority is a local authority responsible for all local government functions within its area or performing additional functions that elsewhere are usually performed by a higher level of sub-national government or the national government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan county</span> Type of county-level administrative division of England

Metropolitan counties are a subdivision of England which were originally used for local government. There are six metropolitan counties: Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Subdivisions of England</span> Administrative division or non-administrative ceremonial area of England

The subdivisions of England constitute a hierarchy of administrative divisions and non-administrative ceremonial areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan borough</span> Type of local government district in England

A metropolitan borough is a type of local government district in England. Created in 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972, metropolitan boroughs are defined in English law as metropolitan districts within metropolitan counties. All of the metropolitan districts have been granted or regranted royal charters giving them borough status. Metropolitan boroughs have been effectively unitary authority areas since the abolition of metropolitan county councils by the Local Government Act 1985. Metropolitan boroughs pool much of their authority in joint boards and other arrangements that cover whole metropolitan counties, such as city regions or combined authorities, with most of the latter having a metro mayor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Counties of England</span> Ceremonial divisions of England

The counties of England are divisions of England. Counties have been used as administrative areas in England since Anglo-Saxon times. There are two main legal definitions of the counties in modern usage: the 84 counties for the purposes of local government, and the 48 counties for the purposes of lieutenancy, also termed the ceremonial counties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County of London</span> County of England between 1889 and 1965

The County of London was a county of England from 1889 to 1965, corresponding to the area known today as Inner London. It was created as part of the general introduction of elected county government in England, by way of the Local Government Act 1888. The Act created an administrative County of London, which included within its territory the City of London. However, the City of London and the County of London formed separate ceremonial counties for "non-administrative" purposes. The local authority for the county was the London County Council (LCC), which initially performed only a limited range of functions, but gained further powers during its 76-year existence. The LCC provided very few services within the City of London, where the ancient Corporation monopolised local governance. In 1900, the lower-tier civil parishes and district boards were replaced with 28 new metropolitan boroughs. The territory of the county was 74,903 acres (303.12 km2) in 1961. During its existence, there was a long-term decline in population as more residents moved into the outer suburbs; there were periodic reviews of the local government structures in the greater London area and several failed attempts to expand the boundaries of the county. In 1965, the London Government Act 1963 replaced the county with the much larger Greater London administrative area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County borough</span> Borough or city independent of county council control

County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control, similar to the unitary authorities created since the 1990s. An equivalent term used in Scotland was a county of city. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland they remain in existence but have been renamed cities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2001. The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 re-introduced the term for certain "principal areas" in Wales. Scotland did not have county boroughs but instead had counties of cities. These were abolished on 16 May 1975. All four Scottish cities of the time—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow—were included in this category. There was an additional category of large burgh in the Scottish system, which were responsible for all services apart from police, education and fire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local government in England</span> System of state administration on a local level in England

Local government in England broadly consists of three layers: civil parishes, local authorities, and regional authorities. Every part of England is governed by at least one local authority, but parish councils and regional authorities do not exist everywhere. In addition, there are 31 police and crime commissioners, four police, fire and crime commissioners, and ten national park authorities with local government responsibilities. Local government is not standardised across the country, with the last comprehensive reform taking place in 1974.

A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Redcliffe-Maud Report</span> 1969 proposed English local government reorganisation

The Redcliffe-Maud Report was published in 1969 by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England, under the chairmanship of Lord Redcliffe-Maud. Although the commission's proposals were broadly accepted by the Labour government, they were set aside by the Conservative government elected in 1970.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local Government Act 1972</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Local Government Act 1972 is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974. It was one of the most significant Acts of Parliament to be passed by the Heath Government of 1970–74.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Non-metropolitan county</span> County-level entity in England

A non-metropolitan county, or colloquially, shire county, is a subdivision of England used for local government.

The structure of local government in the United Kingdom underwent large changes in the 1990s. The system of two-tier local government introduced in the 1970s by the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 was abolished in Scotland and Wales on 1 April 1996 and replaced with single-tier authorities. In England, some areas remained two-tier but many single-tier authorities were created. No changes were made to local government in Northern Ireland.

Local education authorities (LEAs) were defined in England and Wales as the local councils responsible for education within their jurisdictions. The term was introduced by the Education Act 1902 which transferred education powers from school boards to existing local councils.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Non-metropolitan district</span> Type of local government district in England

Non-metropolitan districts, or colloquially "shire districts", are a type of local government district in England. As created, they are sub-divisions of non-metropolitan counties in a two-tier arrangement. Non-metropolitan districts with borough status are known as boroughs, able to appoint a mayor and refer to itself as a borough council.

The counties of the United Kingdom are subnational divisions of the United Kingdom, used for the purposes of administrative, geographical and political demarcation. The older term, shire is historically equivalent to county. By the Middle Ages, county had become established as the unit of local government, at least in England. By the early 17th century, all of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland had been separated into counties. In Scotland shire was the only term used until after the Act of Union 1707.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unitary authorities of England</span> Local government in some parts of England

The unitary authorities of England are a type of local authority responsible for all local government services in an area. They combine the functions of a non-metropolitan county council and a non-metropolitan district council, which elsewhere in England provide two tiers of local government.

The history of local government in England is one of gradual change and evolution since the Middle Ages. England has never possessed a formal written constitution, with the result that modern administration is based on precedent, and is derived from administrative powers granted to older systems, such as that of the shires.


  1. "Local Authority Districts (2015) to Counties (2015) Eng lookup". ONS. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  2. Mapping the Hundreds of England and Wales in GIS University of Cambridge Department of Geography, published 06-06-08, accessed 12 October 2011