Non-metropolitan county
  • Also known as:
  • Shire county
Non-metropolitan counties
Found inRegions
Combined authority areas
Created byLocal Government Act 1972
  • 1 April 1974
Number78 (as of 1 April 2023)
Possible types
  •   Two-tier (21)
  •   Single-tier unitary authority (56)[a]
  •   Royal county of 6 single-tier unitary authorities (1)
Possible status
Populations300,000–1.4 million

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

The non-metropolitan counties were originally created in 1974 as part of a reform of local government in England and Wales, and were the top tier of a two-tier system of counties and districts. 21 non-metropolitan counties still use a two-tier system; 56 are unitary authorities, in which the functions of a county and district council have been combined in a single body. Berkshire has a unique structure.

Non-metropolitan counties cover the majority of England with the exception of Greater London, the Isles of Scilly, and the six metropolitan counties: Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

The non-metropolitan counties are all part of ceremonial counties. Some ceremonial counties, such as Norfolk, contain a single non-metropolitan county, but many contain more than one and it is also common for ceremonial counties and non-metropolitan counties to share a name. Lancashire, for example, contains the non-metropolitan counties of Lancashire, Blackpool, and Blackburn with Darwen.


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

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). An example of the second category is Cumbria, formed by the merger between Cumberland and Westmorland. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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 2019–2023 structural changes to local government in England have involved changes to the non-metropolitan county of Dorset (2019), and the abolition of the non-metropolitan counties Northamptonshire (2021) and Cumbria (2023). In addition, the non-metropolitan counties of Buckinghamshire (2020), North Yorkshire (2023), and Somerset (2023) are unchanged, but their councils became unitary authorities as the existing non-metropolitan districts in these areas were consolidated and the district councils abolished.

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.

  Planned abolition
  Abolished non-metropolitan county
  Abolished non-metropolitan county and associated ceremonial county
Non-metropolitan county 1974[4] Changes 1995–1998 Changes 2009 Changes 2019 and 2020s
Avon (6 districts)[b] 1996: North West Somerset[6] (unitary)
2005: Renamed North Somerset[c]
None None
1996: Bath and North East Somerset[6] (unitary) None None
1996: South Gloucestershire[6] (unitary) None None
1996: City of Bristol[6] (unitary) None None
Bedfordshire (4 districts) 1997: Bedfordshire[8] (3 districts) Bedford[9] (unitary) None
Central Bedfordshire[9] (unitary) None
1997: Luton[8] (unitary) None None
Berkshire (Royal County)[10]
(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.[11] None None
Buckinghamshire (5 districts) 1997: Buckinghamshire[12] (4 districts) None 2020: Buckinghamshire (unitary)
1997: Milton Keynes[12] (unitary) None None
Cambridgeshire (6 districts) 1998: Cambridgeshire[13] (5 districts) None None
1998: Peterborough[13] (unitary) None
Cheshire (8 districts) 1998: Cheshire[14] (6 districts) Cheshire East[15] (unitary) None
Cheshire West and Chester[15] (unitary) None
1998: Halton[14] (unitary) None None
1998: Warrington[14] (unitary) None None
Cleveland (4 districts) 1996: Hartlepool[16] (unitary) None None
1996: Middlesbrough[16] (unitary) None None
1996: Redcar and Cleveland[16] (unitary) None None
1996: Stockton-on-Tees[16] (unitary) None None
Cornwall (6 districts) None Became unitary[17] None
Cumbria (6 districts) None None 2023: Cumberland (unitary)
2023: Westmorland and Furness (unitary)
Derbyshire (9 districts) 1997: Derby[18] (unitary) None None
1997: Derbyshire[18] (8 districts) None None
Devon (10 districts) 1998: Devon[19] (8 districts) None None
1998: Torbay[19] (unitary) None None
1998: Plymouth[19] (unitary) None None
Dorset (8 districts) 1997: Dorset[20] (6 districts) None 2019: Dorset (a unitary from 5 districts)[21]
1997: Bournemouth[20] (unitary) None 2019: Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (unitary from 2 unitaries and Christchurch district)[21]
1997: Poole[20] (unitary) None
Durham (8 districts) 1997: Durham[22] (7 districts) Became unitary[23] None
1997: Darlington[22] (unitary) None None
East Sussex (7 districts) 1997: East Sussex[24] (5 districts) None None
1997: Brighton and Hove[24] (unitary) None None
Essex (14 districts) 1998: Essex[25] (12 districts) None None
1998: Southend-on-Sea[25] (unitary) None None
1998: Thurrock[25] (unitary) None None
Gloucestershire (6 districts) None None None
Hampshire (13 districts) 1997: Hampshire[26] (11 districts) None None
1997: Portsmouth[26] (unitary) None None
1997: Southampton[26] (unitary) None None
Hereford and Worcester (9 districts) 1998: Herefordshire[27] (unitary) None None
1998: Worcestershire[27] (6 districts) None None
Hertfordshire (10 districts) None None None
Humberside (9 districts) 1996: East Riding of Yorkshire[28] (unitary) None None
1996: City of Kingston upon Hull[28] (unitary) None None
1996: North Lincolnshire[28] (unitary) None None
1996: North East Lincolnshire[28] (unitary) None None
Isle of Wight (2 districts) 1995: Became unitary[29] None None
Kent (14 districts) 1998: Kent[30] (12 districts) None None
1998: The Medway Towns[30] (unitary)
1998: renamed Medway
None None
Lancashire (14 districts) 1998: Lancashire[31] (12 districts) None None
1998: Blackburn with Darwen[31] (unitary) None None
1998: Blackpool[31] (unitary) None None
Leicestershire (9 districts) 1997: Leicestershire[32] (7 districts) None None
1997: Leicester[32] (unitary) None None
1997: Rutland[32] (unitary) None None
Lincolnshire (7 districts) None None None
Norfolk (7 districts) None None None
North Yorkshire (8 districts) 1996: North Yorkshire[33] (7 districts) None 2023: North Yorkshire (unitary)
1996: York[33] (unitary) None None
Northamptonshire (7 districts) None None 2021: North Northamptonshire (unitary)
2021: West Northamptonshire (unitary)
Northumberland (6 districts) None Became unitary[34] None
Nottinghamshire (8 districts) 1998: Nottinghamshire[35] (7 districts) None None
1998: Nottingham[35] (unitary) None None
Oxfordshire (5 districts) None None None
Salop (6 districts)

1980: renamed Shropshire

1998: Shropshire (5 districts)[36] Became unitary[37] None
1998: The Wrekin[36] (unitary)

1998: Renamed Telford and Wrekin

None None
Somerset (5 districts) None None 2019: Somerset (4 districts through merger)[38]
2023: Somerset (unitary)
Staffordshire (9 districts) 1997: Staffordshire[39] (8 districts) None None
1997: Stoke-on-Trent[39] (unitary) None None
Suffolk (7 districts) None None 2019: Suffolk (5 districts through mergers)[40][41]
Surrey (11 districts) None None None
Warwickshire (5 districts) None None None
West Sussex (7 districts) None None None
Wiltshire (5 districts) 1997: Wiltshire[42] (4 districts) Became unitary[43] None
1997: Thamesdown[42] (unitary)
1997: Renamed Swindon
None None


In Wales there was no distinction between metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties: all upper tier areas were designated "counties".[44] 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. ^ There are 62 unitary authority areas in total, but six of them (in Berkshire) are not counties
  2. ^ Avon, as a non-metropolitan county, was abolished in 1996, in accordance with Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995. [5]
  3. ^ 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.[7]


  1. ^ Davis, Howard (1997) 'Reviewing the review', Local Government Studies, 23:3, 5 - 17
  2. ^ Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), S.1(1)
  3. ^ Hansard, Written Answers, 31 March 1995, col.830
  4. ^ Local Government Act 1972 (c.70), Schedule I, Part II
  5. ^ "Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d "The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  7. ^ "Agendas, Minutes and Reports". 1 August 2009. Archived from the original on 1 August 2009.
  8. ^ a b "The Bedfordshire (Borough of Luton) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  9. ^ a b "The Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  10. ^ Non-metropolitan county of Berkshire was granted royal status by letters patent in 1974
  11. ^ "The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  12. ^ a b The Buckinghamshire (Borough of Milton Keynes) (Structural Changes) Order 1995
  13. ^ a b "The Cambridgeshire (City of Peterborough) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "The Cheshire (Boroughs of Halton and Warrington) (Structural Change) Order 1996". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  15. ^ a b "The Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d "The Cleveland Further (Provision Order) 1995". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  17. ^ "The Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  18. ^ a b "The Derbyshire (City of Derby) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 6 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  19. ^ a b c The Devon (City of Plymouth and Borough of Torbay) (Structural Change) Order 1996
  20. ^ a b c "The Dorset (Boroughs of Poole and Bournemouth) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  21. ^ a b "The Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole (Structural Changes) Order 2018". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  22. ^ a b "The Durham (Borough of Darlington) (Structural Change) Order 1995". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  23. ^ "The County Durham (Structural Change) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  24. ^ a b "The East Sussex (Boroughs of Brighton and Hove) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  25. ^ a b c "The Essex (Boroughs of Colchester, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock and District of Tendring) (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  26. ^ a b c "The Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  27. ^ a b "The Hereford and Worcester (Structural, Boundary and Electoral Changes) Order 1996". 26 September 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  28. ^ a b c d "The Humberside (Structural Change) Order 1995". 5 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  29. ^ "The Isle of Wight (Structural Change) Order 1994". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  30. ^ a b "The Kent (Borough of Gillingham and City of Rochester upon Medway) (Structural Change) Order 1996". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  31. ^ a b c "The Lancashire (Boroughs of Blackburn and Blackpool) (Structural Change) Order 1996". 26 September 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  32. ^ a b c "The Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13".[permanent dead link]
  33. ^ a b "The North Yorkshire (District of York) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  34. ^ "The Northumberland (Structural Change) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  35. ^ a b "The Nottinghamshire (City of Nottingham) (Structural Change) Order 1996 ( website), accessed 2012-09-13". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  36. ^ a b "The Shropshire (District of The Wrekin) (Structural Change) Order 1996". 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  37. ^ "The Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  38. ^ "The Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  39. ^ a b "The Staffordshire (City of Stoke-on-Trent) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  40. ^ "The West Suffolk (Local Government Changes) Order 2018". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  41. ^ "The East Suffolk (Local Government Changes) Order 2018". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  42. ^ a b "The Wiltshire (Borough of Thamesdown) (Structural Change) Order 1995". 21 April 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  43. ^ "The Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008". Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  44. ^ Arnold-Baker, C., Local Government Act 1972, (1973)