Non-metropolitan county

Non-metropolitan county
Also known as:
Shire county
English non-metropolitan counties 2009.svg
Found inRegions
Created byLocal Government Act 1972
Created1 April 1974
Number77 (as of 1 April 2009)
Possible statusMultiple districts with no county council (1)
Multiple districts with county council (27)
Single district with unitary authority (49)
Populations300,000–1.4 million
SubdivisionsNon-metropolitan district

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

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.