Non-metropolitan county

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Non-metropolitan county
Also known as:
Shire county
English non-metropolitan counties 2009.svg
Non-metropolitan counties (red)
Category Counties
Location England
Found in Regions
Created by Local Government Act 1972
Created1 April 1974
Number76 (as of 1 April 2019)
Possible statusMultiple districts with no county council (1)
Multiple districts with county council (25)
Single district with unitary authority (50)
Populations300,000–1.4 million
Subdivisions Non-metropolitan district

A non-metropolitan county, or colloquially, shire county, is a county-level entity in England that is not a metropolitan county. The counties typically have populations of 300,000 to 1.4 million. [1] The term shire county is, however, an unofficial usage. Many of the non-metropolitan counties bear historic names and most, such as Wiltshire and Staffordshire, end in the suffix "-shire". Of the remainder, some counties had the "-shire" ending but have lost it over time, such as Devon and Somerset.



Prior to 1974 local government had been divided between single-tier county boroughs (the largest towns and cities) and two-tier administrative counties which were subdivided into municipal boroughs and urban and rural districts. The Local Government Act 1972, which came into effect on 1 April 1974, divided England outside Greater London and the six largest conurbations into thirty-nine non-metropolitan counties. Each county was divided into anywhere between two and fourteen non-metropolitan districts. There was a uniform two-tier system of local government with county councils dealing with "wide-area" services such as education, fire services and the police, and district councils exercising more local powers over areas such as planning, housing and refuse collection.

Service Non-metropolitan county Non-metropolitan district Unitary authority
EducationYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
HousingYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Planning applicationsYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Strategic planningYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Transport planningYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Passenger transportYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
HighwaysYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
FireYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Social servicesYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
LibrariesYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Leisure and recreationYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Waste collectionYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Waste disposalYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Environmental healthYes check.svgYYes check.svgY
Revenue collectionYes check.svgYYes check.svgY

As originally constituted, the non-metropolitan counties were largely based on existing counties, although they did include a number of innovations. Some counties were based on areas surrounding large county boroughs or were formed by the mergers of smaller counties. Examples of the first category are Avon (based on Bath and Bristol) and Cleveland (based on Teesside). Examples of the second category are Hereford and Worcester and Cumbria. The counties were adopted for all statutory purposes: a lord-lieutenant and high sheriff was appointed to each county, and they were also used for judicial administration, and definition of police force areas. The Royal Mail adopted the counties for postal purposes in most areas.



A Local Government Commission was appointed in 1992 to review the administrative structure of the non-metropolitan counties. It was anticipated that a system of unitary authorities would entirely replace the two-tier system. The Commission faced competing claims from former county boroughs wishing to regain unitary status and advocates for the restoration of such small counties as Herefordshire and Rutland. [2] The review led to the introduction of unitary local government in some areas but not in others. In the majority of unitary authorities an existing district council took over powers from the county council. The 1972 Act required that all areas outside Greater London form part of a non-metropolitan county, and that all such counties should contain at least one district. [3] Accordingly, the statutory instruments that effected the reorganisation separated the unitary districts from the county in which they were situated and constituted them as counties. The orders also provided that the provisions of the 1972 Act that every county should have a county council should not apply in the new counties, with the district council exercising the powers of the county council.

An exception was made in the case of Berkshire, which was retained with its existing boundaries in spite of the abolition of its county council and the creation of six unitary authorities. This was done in order to preserve its status as a royal county. [4]

With the creation of numerous new non-metropolitan counties, the areas used for lieutenancy and shrievalty began to diverge from local government areas. This led to the development of ceremonial counties for these purposes, a fact recognised by the Lieutenancies Act 1997.


A further wave of unitary authorities were created in 2009 under the terms of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. While a number of new counties were created, several of the new authorities (such as Cornwall or Northumberland) continued to have the boundaries set in 1974.


The 2019–2021 structural changes to local government in England have involved, and will involve, changes to the non-metropolitan counties of Dorset (2019) and Northamptonshire (2020).

List of non-metropolitan counties

The following list shows the original thirty-nine counties formed in 1974, subsequent changes in the 1990s, and further changes since then.

Non-metropolitan county 1974 [5] Changes 1995–1998Changes 2009Changes 2019-2020
Avon (6 districts)‡1996: North West Somerset [6] (unitary)

2005: renamed North Somerset

1996: Bath and North East Somerset [6] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: South Gloucestershire [6] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: City of Bristol [6] (unitary)NoneNone
Bedfordshire (4 districts)1997: Bedfordshire [7] (3 districts) Bedford [8] (unitary)None
Central Bedfordshire [8] (unitary)None
1997: Luton [7] (unitary)NoneNone
Berkshire (Royal County) [9]
(6 districts)
1998: The county council was abolished,
with each of the six district councils in the county becoming unitary authorities.

The Royal County of Berkshire was not abolished. [10]

Buckinghamshire (5 districts)1997: Buckinghamshire [11] (4 districts)NoneBuckinghamshire (unitary)
1997: Milton Keynes [11] (unitary)NoneNone
Cambridgeshire (6 districts)1998: Cambridgeshire [12] (5 districts)NoneNone
1998: Peterborough [12] (unitary)None
Cheshire (8 districts)1998: Cheshire [13] (6 districts) Cheshire East [14] (unitary)None
Cheshire West and Chester [14] (unitary)None
1998: Halton [13] (unitary)NoneNone
1998: Warrington [13] (unitary)NoneNone
Cleveland (4 districts)1996: Hartlepool [15] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: Middlesbrough [15] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: Redcar and Cleveland [15] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: Stockton-on-Tees [15] (unitary)NoneNone
Cornwall (6 districts)NoneBecame unitary [16] None
Cumbria (6 districts)NoneNoneNone
Derbyshire (9 districts)1997: Derby [17] (unitary)NoneNone
1997: Derbyshire [17] (8 districts)NoneNone
Devon (10 districts)1998: Devon [18] (8 districts)NoneNone
1998: Torbay [18] (unitary)NoneNone
1998: Plymouth [18] (unitary)NoneNone
Dorset (8 districts)1997: Dorset [19] (6 districts)None Dorset (unitary) (except Christchurch district) [20]
1997: Bournemouth [19] (unitary)None Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (unitary) [20]
1997: Poole [19] (unitary)None
Durham (8 districts)1997: Darlington [21] (unitary)NoneNone
1997: Durham [21] (7 districts)Became unitary [22] None
East Sussex (7 districts)1997: East Sussex [23] (5 districts)NoneNone
1997: Brighton and Hove [23] (unitary)NoneNone
Essex (14 districts)1998: Essex [24] (12 districts)NoneNone
1998: Southend-on-Sea [24] (unitary)NoneNone
1998: Thurrock [24] (unitary)NoneNone
Gloucestershire (6 districts)NoneNoneNone
Hampshire (13 districts)1997: Hampshire [25] (11 districts)NoneNone
1997: Portsmouth [25] (unitary)NoneNone
1997: Southampton [25] (unitary)NoneNone
Hereford and Worcester (9 districts)1998: Herefordshire [26] (unitary)NoneNone
1998: Worcestershire [26] (6 districts)NoneNone
Hertfordshire (10 districts)NoneNoneNone
Humberside (9 districts)1996: East Riding of Yorkshire [27] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: City of Kingston upon Hull [27] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: North Lincolnshire [27] (unitary)NoneNone
1996: North East Lincolnshire [27] (unitary)NoneNone
Isle of Wight (2 districts)1995: Became unitary [28] NoneNone
Kent (14 districts)1998: Kent [29] (12 districts)NoneNone
1998: The Medway Towns [29] (unitary)

1998: renamed Medway

Lancashire (14 districts)1998: Lancashire [30] (12 districts)NoneNone
1998: Blackburn with Darwen [30] (unitary)NoneNone
1998: Blackpool [30] (unitary)NoneNone
Leicestershire (9 districts)1997: Leicestershire [31] (7 districts)NoneNone
1997: Leicester [31] (unitary)NoneNone
1997: Rutland [31] (unitary)NoneNone
Lincolnshire (7 districts)NoneNoneNone
Norfolk (7 districts)NoneNoneNone
North Yorkshire (8 districts)1996: North Yorkshire [32] (7 districts)NoneNone
1996: York [32] (unitary)NoneNone
Northamptonshire (7 districts)NoneNoneNone
Northumberland (6 districts)NoneBecame unitary [33] None
Nottinghamshire (8 districts)1998: Nottinghamshire [34] (7 districts)NoneNone
1998: Nottingham [34] (unitary)NoneNone
Oxfordshire (5 districts)NoneNoneNone
Salop (6 districts)

1980: renamed Shropshire

1998: Shropshire (5 districts) [35] Became unitary [36] None
1998: The Wrekin [35] (unitary)

1998: Renamed Telford and Wrekin

Somerset (5 districts)NoneNoneReduced to 4 districts through merger [37]
Staffordshire (9 districts)1997: Staffordshire [38] (8 districts)NoneNone
1997: Stoke-on-Trent [38] (unitary)NoneNone
Suffolk (7 districts)NoneNoneReduced to 5 districts through mergers [39] [40]
Surrey (11 districts)NoneNoneNone
Warwickshire (5 districts)NoneNoneNone
West Sussex (7 districts)NoneNoneNone
Wiltshire (5 districts)1997: Wiltshire [41] (4 districts)Became unitary [42] None
1997: Thamesdown [41] (unitary)

1997: renamed Swindon


The name of the non-metropolitan district and district council was changed to "North Somerset" by resolution of the council 11 July 1995. However this did not change the name of the county which had the same area. The Local Government Changes for England (Miscellaneous Provision) Regulations 1995 gave district councils in a "county for which there is no county council and in which there is not more than one district" the additional power to change the name of the county. This was, however, not done until 2005. [43]

Avon, as a non-metropolitan county, was abolished in 1996, in accordance with Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995. [44]


In Wales there was not a distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, with all upper tier areas designated "counties". [45] The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 amended the 1972 Act, abolishing the Welsh counties and creating instead new Welsh principal areas, some of which are also designated "counties". For the purposes of lieutenancy the counties constituted in 1974 were preserved.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Ceremonial counties of England Collective name for areas, in England, to which a Lord Lieutenant is appointed

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  3. Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), S.1(1)
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