|Also known as:|
Non-metropolitan counties (red)
|Created by||Local Government Act 1972|
|Created||1 April 1974|
|Number||76 (as of 1 April 2019)|
|Possible status||Multiple districts with no county council (1)|
Multiple districts with county council (25)
Single district with unitary authority (50)
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.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|
|Leisure and recreation|
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.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. 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.
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).
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||Changes 1995–1998||Changes 2009||Changes 2019-2020|
|Avon (6 districts)‡||1996: North West Somerset (unitary)|
2005: renamed North Somerset†
|1996: Bath and North East Somerset (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: South Gloucestershire (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: City of Bristol (unitary)||None||None|
|Bedfordshire (4 districts)||1997: Bedfordshire (3 districts)||Bedford (unitary)||None|
|Central Bedfordshire (unitary)||None|
|1997: Luton (unitary)||None||None|
| Berkshire (Royal County) |
|1998: The county council was abolished,|
with each of the six district councils in the county becoming unitary authorities.
|Buckinghamshire (5 districts)||1997: Buckinghamshire (4 districts)||None||Buckinghamshire (unitary)|
|1997: Milton Keynes (unitary)||None||None|
|Cambridgeshire (6 districts)||1998: Cambridgeshire (5 districts)||None||None|
|1998: Peterborough (unitary)||None|
|Cheshire (8 districts)||1998: Cheshire (6 districts)||Cheshire East (unitary)||None|
|Cheshire West and Chester (unitary)||None|
|1998: Halton (unitary)||None||None|
|1998: Warrington (unitary)||None||None|
|Cleveland (4 districts)||1996: Hartlepool (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: Middlesbrough (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: Redcar and Cleveland (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: Stockton-on-Tees (unitary)||None||None|
|Cornwall (6 districts)||None||Became unitary||None|
|Cumbria (6 districts)||None||None||None|
|Derbyshire (9 districts)||1997: Derby (unitary)||None||None|
|1997: Derbyshire (8 districts)||None||None|
|Devon (10 districts)||1998: Devon (8 districts)||None||None|
|1998: Torbay (unitary)||None||None|
|1998: Plymouth (unitary)||None||None|
|Dorset (8 districts)||1997: Dorset (6 districts)||None||Dorset (unitary) (except Christchurch district)|
|1997: Bournemouth (unitary)||None||Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (unitary)|
|1997: Poole (unitary)||None|
|Durham (8 districts)||1997: Darlington (unitary)||None||None|
|1997: Durham (7 districts)||Became unitary||None|
|East Sussex (7 districts)||1997: East Sussex (5 districts)||None||None|
|1997: Brighton and Hove (unitary)||None||None|
|Essex (14 districts)||1998: Essex (12 districts)||None||None|
|1998: Southend-on-Sea (unitary)||None||None|
|1998: Thurrock (unitary)||None||None|
|Gloucestershire (6 districts)||None||None||None|
|Hampshire (13 districts)||1997: Hampshire (11 districts)||None||None|
|1997: Portsmouth (unitary)||None||None|
|1997: Southampton (unitary)||None||None|
|Hereford and Worcester (9 districts)||1998: Herefordshire (unitary)||None||None|
|1998: Worcestershire (6 districts)||None||None|
|Hertfordshire (10 districts)||None||None||None|
|Humberside (9 districts)||1996: East Riding of Yorkshire (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: City of Kingston upon Hull (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: North Lincolnshire (unitary)||None||None|
|1996: North East Lincolnshire (unitary)||None||None|
|Isle of Wight (2 districts)||1995: Became unitary||None||None|
|Kent (14 districts)||1998: Kent (12 districts)||None||None|
|1998: The Medway Towns (unitary)|
1998: renamed Medway
|Lancashire (14 districts)||1998: Lancashire (12 districts)||None||None|
|1998: Blackburn with Darwen (unitary)||None||None|
|1998: Blackpool (unitary)||None||None|
|Leicestershire (9 districts)||1997: Leicestershire (7 districts)||None||None|
|1997: Leicester (unitary)||None||None|
|1997: Rutland (unitary)||None||None|
|Lincolnshire (7 districts)||None||None||None|
|Norfolk (7 districts)||None||None||None|
|North Yorkshire (8 districts)||1996: North Yorkshire (7 districts)||None||None|
|1996: York (unitary)||None||None|
|Northamptonshire (7 districts)||None||None||None|
|Northumberland (6 districts)||None||Became unitary||None|
|Nottinghamshire (8 districts)||1998: Nottinghamshire (7 districts)||None||None|
|1998: Nottingham (unitary)||None||None|
|Oxfordshire (5 districts)||None||None||None|
|Salop (6 districts)|
1980: renamed Shropshire
|1998: Shropshire (5 districts)||Became unitary||None|
|1998: The Wrekin (unitary)|
1998: Renamed Telford and Wrekin
|Somerset (5 districts)||None||None||Reduced to 4 districts through merger|
|Staffordshire (9 districts)||1997: Staffordshire (8 districts)||None||None|
|1997: Stoke-on-Trent (unitary)||None||None|
|Suffolk (7 districts)||None||None||Reduced to 5 districts through mergers|
|Surrey (11 districts)||None||None||None|
|Warwickshire (5 districts)||None||None||None|
|West Sussex (7 districts)||None||None||None|
|Wiltshire (5 districts)||1997: Wiltshire (4 districts)||Became unitary||None|
|1997: Thamesdown (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.
‡ Avon, as a non-metropolitan county, was abolished in 1996, in accordance with Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995.
In Wales there was not a distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, with all upper tier areas designated "counties".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.
The subdivisions of England constitute a hierarchy of administrative divisions and non-administrative ceremonial areas.
The counties of England are areas used for different purposes, which include administrative, geographical, cultural and political demarcation. The term 'county' is defined in several ways and can apply to similar or the same areas used by each of these demarcation structures. These different types of county each have a more formal name but are commonly referred to just as 'counties'. The current arrangement is the result of incremental reform.
The counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies, also referred to as the lieutenancy areas of England and informally known as ceremonial counties, are areas of England to which lords-lieutenant are appointed. Legally, the areas in England, as well as in Wales and Scotland, are defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997 as "counties and areas for the purposes of the lieutenancies in Great Britain", in contrast to the areas used for local government. They are also informally known as "geographic counties", to distinguish them from other types of counties of England.
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties are one of the four levels of subdivisions of England used for the purposes of local government outside Greater London and the Isles of Scilly. As originally constituted, the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties each consisted of multiple districts, had a county council and were also the counties for the purposes of Lieutenancies. Later changes in legislation during the 1980s and 1990s have allowed counties without county councils and 'unitary authority' counties of a single district. Counties for the purposes of Lieutenancies are now defined separately, based on the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties.
Darlington is a unitary authority in County Durham, England. Until 1 April 1997 it was a non-metropolitan district.
Bath and North East Somerset Council is the local council for the district of Bath and North East Somerset in Somerset, England.
Slough is a unitary authority in Berkshire, England. Until 1 April 1998 it was a non-metropolitan district.
North Somerset Council is a unitary authority in Somerset, England. Until 1 April 1996 it was a non-metropolitan district in Avon.
Unitary authorities of England are local authorities that are responsible for the provision of all local government services within a district. They are constituted under the Local Government Act 1992, which amended the Local Government Act 1972 to allow the existence of counties that do not have multiple districts. They typically allow large towns to have separate local authorities from the less urbanised parts of their counties and provide a single authority for small counties where division into districts would be impractical. Unitary authorities do not cover all of England. Most were established during the 1990s, though further tranches were created in 2009 and 2019–20. Unitary authorities have the powers and functions that are elsewhere separately administered by councils of non-metropolitan counties and the non-metropolitan districts within them.
The Local Government Commission for England was the body responsible for reviewing the structure of local government in England from 1992 to 2002. It was established under the Local Government Act 1992, replacing the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. The Commission could be ordered by the Secretary of State to undertake "structural reviews" in specified areas and recommend the creation of unitary authorities in the two-tier shire counties of England. The Commission, chaired by John Banham, conducted a review of all the non-metropolitan counties of England from 1993 to 1994, making various recommendations on their future.
Nottinghamshire County Council is the upper-tier local authority for the non-metropolitan county of Nottinghamshire in England. It consists of 66 county councillors, elected from 56 electoral divisions every four years. The most recent election was held in 2017.
Northampton Borough Council is the borough council and non-metropolitan district responsible for local government in the large town of Northampton in England. The leader and cabinet model of decision-making has been adopted by the council. It consists of 45 councillors, representing 33 wards in the town, overseen by a mayor, leader and cabinet. It is currently controlled by the Conservative Party and is currently led by Jonathan Nunn. The main council building is Northampton Guildhall.