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It has been suggested that Metropolitan county and Non-metropolitan county be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since June 2023.
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan county
CategoryAdministrative counties
Found inRegion
Created byLocal Government Act 1972
  • 1974
Number84 (as of 1 April 2023)
Possible types
Possible status
  • Multiple districts with no county council (6 metropolitan counties and 1 non-metropolitan county)
  • Multiple districts with county council (21 non-metropolitan counties)
  • Unitary authorities (56 non-metropolitan counties)

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 resulted in counties with no county council and 'unitary authority' counties with no districts. Counties for the purposes of Lieutenancies are now defined separately, based on the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties.

In 2009, and from 2019 to 2023, there were further structural changes in some areas, resulting in a total of 84 metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. These 84 counties collectively consist of 262 districts or district-level subdivisions, i.e. 36 metropolitan boroughs and 226 non-metropolitan districts.

Current metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England

Metropolitan counties

Main article: Metropolitan county

The metropolitan counties are Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The counties typically have populations of 1.2 to 2.8 million.[1]

The county councils of these were abolished in 1986, but the counties themselves still exist legally.[2] They are used for some administrative and geographic purposes, and are still ceremonial counties. Most of the powers that the former county councils had were devolved to their metropolitan boroughs, which are now in effect unitary authorities; however, some functions (such as emergency services, civil defence and public transport) are still run jointly on a metropolitan-county-wide basis.[3]

Non-metropolitan counties

Main article: Non-metropolitan county

Shire counties

The unofficial term "shire county" is sometimes used to refer to a two-tier non-metropolitan county, that is, a non-metropolitan county that has more than one district.[citation needed] Its name does not need to have "shire" in it.

There are 21 such counties:

All have county councils. This definition of "shire county" excludes Berkshire because it has no county council. The counties are less urbanised and have populations of 109,000 to 1.4 million.[1] Under local government reforms coming into effect in 2009, the number of such counties was reduced. The non-metropolitan counties of Bedfordshire and Cheshire were each split into two separate non-metropolitan counties, while Cornwall, County Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire became unitary authorities.

Unitary authorities

Main article: Unitary authorities of England

Unitary authorities are areas with only one council.

Most are defined as counties with a single district council and no county council:

The others are technically counties with a county council and no district councils, but the effect is the same:

The remaining six unitary authorities (West Berkshire, Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough) form Berkshire, however they are not non-metropolitan counties, as the non-metropolitan county of Berkshire still exists albeit without a county council; this is a unique situation.[citation needed]

List and map

Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of England (from 2023)
  1. Northumberland *
  2. Tyne and Wear
  3. Durham *
  4. Westmorland and Furness *
  5. Cumberland *
  6. Lancashire **
  7. Blackpool *
  8. Blackburn with Darwen *
  9. West Yorkshire
  10. North Yorkshire **
  11. Darlington *
  12. Stockton-on-Tees *
  13. Middlesbrough *
  14. Hartlepool *
  15. Redcar and Cleveland *
  16. York *
  17. East Riding of Yorkshire *
  18. Kingston upon Hull *
  19. North Lincolnshire *
  20. North East Lincolnshire *
  21. Lincolnshire **
  22. Nottinghamshire **
  23. Nottingham *
  24. South Yorkshire
  25. Derbyshire **
  26. Derby *
  27. Greater Manchester
  28. Merseyside
  29. Halton *
  30. Warrington *
  31. Cheshire West and Chester *
  32. Cheshire East *
  33. Shropshire *
  34. Telford and Wrekin *
  35. Staffordshire **
  36. Stoke-on-Trent *
  37. West Midlands
  38. Warwickshire **
  39. Leicestershire **
  40. Leicester *
  41. Rutland *
  42. West Northamptonshire *
  43. North Northamptonshire *
  44. Peterborough *
  45. Cambridgeshire **
  46. Norfolk **
  47. Suffolk **
  48. Essex **
  49. Southend-on-Sea *
  50. Thurrock *
  51. Hertfordshire **
  52. Bedford *
  53. Central Bedfordshire *
  54. Luton *
  55. Milton Keynes *
  56. Buckinghamshire *
  57. Oxfordshire **
  58. Gloucestershire **
  59. Worcestershire **
  60. Herefordshire *
  61. South Gloucestershire *
  62. Bristol *
  63. North Somerset *
  64. Bath and North East Somerset *
  65. Wiltshire *
  66. Swindon *
  67. Berkshire
  68. Medway *
  69. Kent **
  70. East Sussex **
  71. Brighton and Hove *
  72. West Sussex **
  73. Surrey **
  74. Hampshire **
  75. Southampton *
  76. Portsmouth *
  77. Isle of Wight *
  78. Dorset *
  79. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole *
  80. Somerset *
  81. Devon **
  82. Torbay *
  83. Plymouth *
  84. Cornwall *
† Metropolitan county (no county council).
‡ Non-metropolitan county with no county council.
** Two-tier non-metropolitan county with county council.
* Non-metropolitan county that is also a unitary authority.

Exceptions in England

The Local Government Act 1972 created the system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties and districts, but specifically excluded two parts of England from the new system, a situation which exists to the present.

Greater London

Greater London was created in 1965 by the London Government Act 1963 as a sui generis administrative area,[4] with the Greater London Council functioning as an upper-tier local government. It consists of 33 local authority districts and spans the area which was prior made up of the County of London, most of Middlesex, and parts of other neighbouring administrative counties. In 1972, no metropolitan or non-metropolitan counties or districts were created in this area. However, the council was abolished along with the metropolitan county councils in 1986.

In 1994, Greater London was designated as one of nine regions of England, each of which had a government office up until they were abolished 2011. Since 2000, Greater London has had an elected Assembly and Mayor responsible for strategic local government. In the other eight regions, plans for elected assemblies were abandoned (although they had regional chambers with limited functions between 1999 and 2010), leaving London as the only region with a conterminous authority.

The area does however include two counties for the purposes of lieutenancies (informally known as ceremonial counties): the county of Greater London (which covers the 32 London boroughs) and the City of London (which covers the City, that is, the original walled "square mile").

Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are, like Greater London, not covered by the system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. The Council of the Isles of Scilly remains a district council (constituted in 1890, by way of the Local Government Act 1888) with county council powers (granted by the Isles of Scilly Order 1930) and is therefore a sui generis unitary authority. Some functions, such as health and economic development, are shared with Cornwall Council, and the islands form part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall.


The current system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties came into effect on 1 April 1974 and replaced the administrative counties and county boroughs, which were abolished at that time. Greater London was created in 1965 under separate legislation, which also led to small parts of Middlesex transferred to Surrey and Hertfordshire.

In the 1990s, a new type of non-metropolitan county was created: the unitary authority, which combines the functions and powers of county and district. The existing non-metropolitan counties became known as shire counties to distinguish them from the unitary authorities.

Local Government Act 1972

Main article: Local Government Act 1972

By the late 1960s, it had become obvious that the structure of local government in England and Wales needed reforming. Harold Wilson's Labour government set up the Redcliffe-Maud Commission to produce proposals for wholesale reform.

The report proposed that for most of England the two-tier structure be abolished, and replaced with a system of 58 unitary authorities, which would generally ignore the previous administrative boundaries in favour of changes that made geographic sense - a total redrawing of the map. In the South of Lancashire, North East of Cheshire and the Birmingham area, there would be 3 metropolitan areas, with 20 district authorities.

These proposals were opposed by the Conservative Party opposition led by Edward Heath. They won the 1970 general election, and set to work defining their own scheme. This scrapped the concept of unitary authorities (even for existing county boroughs) – the entire area of England and Wales was to be divided into uniform counties and districts. In England the new divisions were to be largely modelled on the existing counties with quite radical reforms put forward, even in some non-metropolitan areas.

Despite reassurances from the government that nobody's loyalties were expected to change as a result of the local government reform, many changes did incur significant local opposition. Most of the radical changes were withdrawn. One aspect the government stood firm on was the mergers of small counties. Campaigns for the continuation of Rutland and Herefordshire were unsuccessful, although due to its special geographic circumstances, the Isle of Wight was permitted to retain a separate county council, as opposed to being reunified with its historic county of Hampshire.

The Local Government Act was passed in 1972, and defined the English counties and metropolitan districts, but not the non-metropolitan districts. These were set by a Boundary Commission that had already begun work.[5]

The metropolitan counties were composed as follows:

Other significant changes were:

The changes were adopted by the Royal Mail for the purposes of postal addresses wherever they were able, with the notable exceptions of Hereford and Worcester and Greater Manchester. Humberside was divided for this purpose into North Humberside and South Humberside.

Map 1974–1996

Counties of England from 1974 to 1996

Abolition of metropolitan county councils

Main article: Local Government Act 1985

In 1986, the county councils of the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council were abolished by Margaret Thatcher's government following disputes with central government, but the counties themselves remained legally in existence.

Local Government Act 1992

Main article: Local Government Commission for England (1992)

1 April 1974 to 31 March 1996

1 April 1996 to 31 March 1997

1 April 1997 to 31 March 1998

1 April 1998 to 31 March 2009

1 April 2009 to 31 March 2019

1 April 2019 to 31 March 2021

1 April 2021 to 31 March 2023

from 1 April 2023
Evolution of the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties

The 1990s led to the restoration of county boroughs under a new name, unitary authorities, which radically changed the administrative map of England. The changes were carried out in several waves.

On 1 April 1995, the Isle of Wight became a single unitary authority. It had previously had a two-tier structure with an Isle of Wight County Council, Medina Borough Council and South Wight Borough Council. Also on this day, two small areas were ceded from Surrey and Buckinghamshire to Berkshire, giving it a border with Greater London.

On 1 April 1996, the unpopular[why?] counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland were abolished and their former area divided into unitary districts. Also at this time, the city of York was expanded and separated from North Yorkshire.

On 1 April 1997, the districts of Bournemouth, Darlington, Derby, Leicester, Luton, Milton Keynes, Poole, Portsmouth, Rutland, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Swindon (based on the former Thamesdown district) became unitary authorities. Also, the districts of Brighton and Hove were merged to form the new unitary authority of Brighton and Hove.

On 1 April 1998, Blackburn with Darwen (based on the former Blackburn district), Blackpool, Halton, Nottingham, Peterborough, Plymouth, Southend-on-Sea, Telford and Wrekin (based on the former Wrekin district), Torbay, Thurrock and Warrington became unitary authorities. Also, the districts of Rochester-upon-Medway and Gillingham were merged to form the new unitary authority of Medway, and the county of Hereford and Worcester was abolished and replaced by the unitary authority of Herefordshire and the shire county of Worcestershire. Berkshire was split into six unitary authorities, but not formally abolished.

2009 structural changes

Main article: 2009 structural changes to local government in England

In April 2009, the following changes were made to the non-metropolitan counties:

Non-metropolitan county Action
Borough of Bedford District became a non-metropolitan county[6]
Bedfordshire Abolished[6]
Central Bedfordshire New non-metropolitan county[6]
Cheshire Abolished[7]
Cheshire East New non-metropolitan county[7]
Cheshire West and Chester New non-metropolitan county[7]

The effect was that Bedfordshire and Cheshire became ceremonial counties that do not correspond to a non-metropolitan county of the same name.

2019–2023 changes

Main article: 2019–2023 structural changes to local government in England

Since 2019, the following changes have been made to the non-metropolitan counties:

Non-metropolitan county Action Date
Bournemouth Abolished 1 April 2019
Poole Abolished
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole New unitary authority area formed by merging three districts
Dorset One district abolished and absorbed into the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole; all others abolished and their powers acquired by the non-metropolitan county (thus becoming a unitary authority area)
Somerset Two districts merged
Suffolk Two pairs of districts merged
Buckinghamshire All districts abolished and their powers acquired by the non-metropolitan county (thus becoming a unitary authority area) 1 April 2020
Northamptonshire Abolished, along with all its districts 1 April 2021
North Northamptonshire New unitary authority area formed by merging four districts
West Northamptonshire New unitary authority area formed by merging three districts
Cumbria Abolished along with all its districts 1 April 2023
Cumberland New unitary authority area formed by merging three districts
Westmorland and Furness New unitary authority area formed by merging three districts
North Yorkshire All districts abolished and their powers acquired by the non-metropolitan county (thus becoming a unitary authority area)
Somerset All districts abolished and their powers acquired by the non-metropolitan county (thus becoming a unitary authority area)

See also


  1. ^ a b Jones, B. et al., Politics UK (2004)
  2. ^ Elcock, H, Local Government (1994)
  3. ^ Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Aspects of Britain: Local Government (1996)
  4. ^ Bryne, T., Local Government in Britain (1994)
  5. ^ Arnold-Baker, C., Local Government Act 1972 (1973)
  6. ^ a b c Office of Public Sector Information - Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 (Draft)
  7. ^ a b c Office of Public Sector Information - Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 (Draft)