Non-metropolitan county

Non-metropolitan county
Also known as:
Shire county
Category Counties
Location England
Found in Regions
Created by Local Government Act 1972
Created 1 April 1974
Number 77 (as of 1 April 2009)
Possible status Multiple districts with no county council (1)
Multiple districts with county council (27)
Single district with unitary authority (49)
Populations 300,000–1.4 million
Subdivisions Non-metropolitan district

A non-metropolitan county, or 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 end in the suffix "-shire" such as Wiltshire or Staffordshire. Of the remainder, some counties had the -shire ending and have lost it over time; such as Devon and Somerset. "Shire county" is, strictly, a dual-language tautology since the French-derived "county" means the same as the older Anglo-Saxon word "shire".


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
Education YesY YesY
Housing YesY YesY
Planning applications YesY YesY
Strategic planning YesY YesY
Transport planning YesY YesY
Passenger transport YesY YesY
Highways YesY YesY
Fire YesY YesY
Social services YesY YesY
Libraries YesY YesY
Leisure and recreation YesY YesY
Waste collection YesY YesY
Waste disposal YesY YesY
Environmental health YesY YesY
Revenue collection YesY YesY

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 county counties were created, several of the new authorities (such as Cornwall or Northumberland) continued to have the boundaries set in 1974.

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 in 2009.

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

2005: renamed North Somerset

1996: Bath and North East Somerset[6] (unitary) None
1996: South Gloucestershire[6] (unitary) None
1996: City of Bristol[6] (unitary) None
Bedfordshire (4 districts) 1997: Bedfordshire[7] (3 districts) Bedford[8] (unitary)
Central Bedfordshire[8] (unitary)
1997: Luton[7] (unitary) None
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) None
1997: Milton Keynes[11] (unitary) None
Cambridgeshire (6 districts) 1998: Cambridgeshire[12] (5 districts) None
1998: Peterborough[12] (unitary) None
Cheshire (8 districts) 1998: Cheshire[13] (6 districts) 2009: Cheshire East[14] (unitary)
2009: Cheshire West and Chester[14] (unitary)
1998: Halton[13] (unitary) None
1998: Warrington[13] (unitary) None
Cleveland (4 districts) 1996: Hartlepool[15] (unitary) None
1996: Middlesbrough[15] (unitary) None
1996: Redcar and Cleveland[15] (unitary) None
1996: Stockton-on-Tees[15] (unitary) None
Cornwall (6 districts) None 2009: Became unitary[16]
Cumbria (6 districts) None None
Derbyshire (9 districts) 1997: Derby[17] (unitary) None
1997: Derbyshire[17] (8 districts) None
Devon (10 districts) 1998: Devon[18] (8 districts) None
1998: Torbay[18] (unitary) None
1998: Plymouth[18] (unitary) None
Dorset (8 districts) 1997: Dorset[19] (6 districts) None
1997: Bournemouth[19] (unitary) None
1997: Poole[19] (unitary) None
Durham (8 districts) 1997: Darlington[20] (unitary) None
1997: Durham[20] (7 districts) 2009: County Durham[21] (unitary)
East Sussex (7 districts) 1997: East Sussex[22] (5 districts) None
1997: Brighton and Hove[22] (unitary) None
Essex (14 districts) 1998: Essex[23] (12 districts) None
1998: Southend-on-Sea[23] (unitary) None
1998: Thurrock[23] (unitary) None
Gloucestershire (6 districts) None None
Hampshire (13 districts) 1997: Hampshire[24] (11 districts) None
1997: Portsmouth[24] (unitary) None
1997: Southampton[24] (unitary) None
Hereford and Worcester (9 districts) 1998: Herefordshire[25] (unitary) None
1998: Worcestershire[25] (6 districts) None
Hertfordshire (10 districts) None None
Humberside (9 districts) 1996: East Riding of Yorkshire[26] (unitary) None
1996: City of Kingston upon Hull[26] (unitary) None
1996: North Lincolnshire[26] (unitary) None
1996: North East Lincolnshire[26] (unitary) None
Isle of Wight (2 districts) 1995: Became unitary[27] None
Kent (14 districts) 1998: Kent[28] (12 districts) None
1998: The Medway Towns[28] (unitary)

1998: renamed Medway

Lancashire (14 districts) 1998: Lancashire[29] (12 districts) None
1998: Blackburn with Darwen[29] (unitary) None
1998: Blackpool[29] (unitary) None
Leicestershire (9 districts) 1997: Leicestershire[30] (7 districts) None
1997: Leicester[30] (unitary) None
1997: Rutland[30] (unitary) None
Lincolnshire (7 districts) None None
Norfolk (7 districts) None None
North Yorkshire (8 districts) 1996: North Yorkshire[31] (7 districts) None
1996: York[31] (unitary) None
Northamptonshire (7 districts) None None
Northumberland (6 districts) None Became unitary[32]
Nottinghamshire (8 districts) 1998: Nottinghamshire[33] (7 districts) None
1998: Nottingham[33] (unitary) None
Oxfordshire (5 districts) None None
Salop (6 districts)

1980: renamed Shropshire

1998: Shropshire (5 districts)[34] Became unitary[35]
1998: The Wrekin[34] (unitary)

1998: Renamed Telford and Wrekin

Somerset (5 districts) None None
Staffordshire (9 districts) 1997: Staffordshire[36] (8 districts) None
1997: Stoke-on-Trent[36] (unitary) None
Suffolk (7 districts) None None
Surrey (11 districts) None None
Warwickshire (5 districts) None None
West Sussex (7 districts) None None
Wiltshire (5 districts) 1997: Wiltshire[37] (4 districts) Became unitary[38]
1997: Thamesdown[37] (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.[39]

Avon, as a non-metropolitan county, was abolished in 1996, in accordance with Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995. [40]


In Wales there was not a distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, with all upper tier areas designated "counties".[41] 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


  1. Jones, B. et al., Politics UK, (2004)
  2. Davis, Howard (1997) 'Reviewing the review', Local Government Studies, 23:3, 5 - 17
  3. Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), S.1(1)
  4. Hansard, Written Answers, 31 March 1995, col.830
  5. Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), Schedule I, Part II
  6. 1 2 3 4 The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2008-05-12
  7. 1 2 The Bedfordshire (Borough of Luton) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  8. 1 2 The Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  9. Non-metropolitan county of Berkshire was granted royal status by letters patent in 1974
  10. The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2008-05-12
  11. 1 2 The Buckinghamshire (Borough of Milton Keynes) (Structural Changes) Order 1995
  12. 1 2 The Cambridgeshire (City of Peterborough) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  13. 1 2 3 The Cheshire (Boroughs of Halton and Warrington) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  14. 1 2 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  15. 1 2 3 4 The Cleveland Further (Provision Order) 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  16. The Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  17. 1 2 The Derbyshire (City of Derby) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  18. 1 2 3 The Devon (City of Plymouth and Borough of Torbay) (Structural Change) Order 1996
  19. 1 2 3 The Dorset (Boroughs of Poole and Bournemouth) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  20. 1 2 The Durham (Borough of Darlington) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  21. The County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  22. 1 2 The East Sussex (Boroughs of Brighton and Hove) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  23. 1 2 3 The Essex (Boroughs of Colchester, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock and District of Tendring) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 (legislation website), accessed 2012-09-13
  24. 1 2 3 The Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  25. 1 2 The Hereford and Worcester (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  26. 1 2 3 4 The Humberside (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  27. The Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order 1994 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  28. 1 2 The Kent (Borough of Gillingham and City of Rochester upon Medway) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  29. 1 2 3 The Lancashire (Boroughs of Blackburn and Blackpool) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  30. 1 2 3 The Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  31. 1 2 The North Yorkshire (District of York) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  32. The Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  33. 1 2 The Nottinghamshire (City of Nottingham) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  34. 1 2 The Shropshire (District of The Wrekin) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  35. The Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  36. 1 2 The Staffordshire (City of Stoke-on-Trent) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  37. 1 2 The Wiltshire (Borough of Thamesdown) (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2008-05-12
  38. The Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13
  39. Minutes of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Council, Tuesday 28 June 2005, (North Somerset Council), accessed 2008-05-12
  40. Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995 ( website), accessed 2014-06-15
  41. Arnold-Baker, C., Local Government Act 1972, (1973)
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