Principal areas of Wales
Prif ardaloedd Cymru (Welsh)
Map of the 22 principal areas of Wales
CategoryUnitary authorities
  • 1 April 1996
Possible types
  • County
  • County borough

The principal areas of Wales, comprising the counties and county boroughs of Wales, are a form of subdivision in Wales. There are currently 22 principal areas in Wales, and they were established in 1996.


For local government, Wales is divided into 22 sub-divisions collectively called "principal areas" in the 1994 act. They may be styled as either a "county" or a "county borough". Each principal area is overseen by a "principal council", which may also adopt their principal area style, being called a "county council" (Welsh: cyngor sir) or a "county borough council" (Welsh: cyngor bwrdeistref sirol).[1][2]

The basic framework of local government and specifically a council's constitution and general powers were set out in the Local Government Act 1972, which simplified the existing local governing structure in Wales that existed prior. The later Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 restructured local government, by significantly amending the previous act. The councils of the principal areas are generally supervised by the Welsh Government.[1][3]

The names of the principal areas, in both English and Welsh, are set out in the 1994 amended version of the 1972 act, under Schedule 4. Section 74 of the 1972 act allows principal councils to change their names, if there is a two-third majority support for such in a specially covened meeting. Since their establishment, multiple councils have pursued a name change. Any notice of a name change has to be submitted to the Welsh Ministers and the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales.[1][2]

The principal areas' councils are unitary authorities, and are sub-divided into communities and electoral wards.[4]

Some of the principal areas have county borough status, a largely historical status that reflects their historical existence as major population centres.[4] The eleven county boroughs of Wales are Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Conwy, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. County borough status does not award any different rights compared to the other counties. The 1994 act stated they should not be treated as a "borough" as defined by earlier legislation.[2]

The other eleven have county status, and are styled as "counties".

The principal areas' boundaries are made up of its electoral wards, and the average number of electoral wards in a principal area is 40.[4]

Name changes

Five of the principal areas use different names to those given in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. In each case the council renamed the area immediately, with the changes taking effect on 2 April 1996.[5] The changes were:

Other simpler changes also took place such as:


Following the enacting of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, the pre-existing eight counties of Wales (now largely the ceremonial preserved counties of Wales) and its 37 districts were replaced on 1 April 1996, with 22 unitary authorities, the "principal areas".[4][6][2] The 1994 act also created the communities and preserved counties.[2]

In 2014, plans were announced to reform local government in Wales, reducing the number of principal areas from 22 to a smaller number of unitary authorities, similar to the counties that they replaced in 1996.[7][6]

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Wales in 2020, the principal areas were used as a basis for local lockdowns.[8]


List of principal areas in 1994 act

List of principal areas set out in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994[2]
Principal area Comprising (in 1996)
Current name(s) Initial name(s) in 1994 Act Districts (and specific communities)
Isle of Anglesey

(Welsh: Ynys Môn)


(Welsh: Sir Fôn)

  • Ynys Môn – Isle of Anglesey
Gwynedd Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire

(Welsh: Sir Gaernarfon a Meirionnydd)


(Welsh: Caerdydd)

Ceredigion Cardiganshire

(Welsh: Sir Aberteifi)

  • Ceredigion

(Welsh: Sir Gaerfyrddin)


(Welsh: Sir Ddinbych)


(Welsh: Sir y Fflint)


(Welsh: Sir Fynwy)


(Welsh: Sir Benfro)


(Welsh: Abertawe)

County boroughs
Conwy Aberconwy and Colwyn

(Welsh: Aberconwy a Cholwyn)

Blaenau Gwent

(Welsh: Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)


(Welsh: Caerffili)

Merthyr Tydfil

(Welsh: Merthyr Tudful)

Neath Port Talbot

(Welsh: Castell-nedd Port Talbot)

Neath and Port Talbot

(Welsh: Castell-nedd a Phort Talbot)


(Welsh: Casnewydd)

  • Newport
Rhondda Cynon Taf Rhondda, Cynon, Taff

(Welsh: Rhondda, Cynon, Taf)


(Welsh: Tor-faen)

  • Torfaen
The Vale of Glamorgan

(Welsh: Bro Morgannwg)


(Welsh: Wrecsam)

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Principal councils". Law Wales - Welsh Government. 15 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Local Government (Wales) Act 1994". 5 July 1994.
  3. ^ "Local Government Act 1972". 1 October 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "Wales - Office for National Statistics". Retrieved 2023-12-10.
  5. ^ "The Residuary Body for Wales (Levies) Regulations 1996". Archived from the original on 9 December 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Why does the Welsh council map keep changing?". ITV News. 17 June 2015.
  7. ^ Bodden, Tom (2014-02-11). "Anglesey and Gwynedd: The great divide separating two counties". North Wales Live. Retrieved 2023-12-10.
  8. ^ Nisbet, Megan (2020-10-02). "All the counties in Wales in lockdown and the rules that apply". Wales Online. Retrieved 2023-12-10.
  9. ^ a b "The Denbighshire and Wrexham (Areas) Order 1996". UK Parliament. 9 December 1996.