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The metropolitan counties are a type of county-level administrative division of Englandmarker. There are six metropolitan counties, which each cover large urban areas, typically with populations of 1.2 to 2.8 million. They were created in 1974 and are each divided into several metropolitan district.

The metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986 with most of their functions being devolved to the individual boroughs, making them de facto unitary authorities. The remaining functions were taken over by joint boards.

The metropolitan counties have population densities of between 800 (South Yorkshiremarker) and 2800 (West Midlands) people/km². Individual metropolitan districts range from 4,000 people/km² in Liverpoolmarker to only 500 people/km² in Doncastermarker. Today, residents of metropolitan counties account for around 22% of the population of England, or 18% of the United Kingdommarker.

Counties and districts

The six metropolitan counties and their metropolitan districts are:

Metropolitan county Metropolitan boroughs
Greater Manchestermarker City of Manchestermarker, City of Salfordmarker, Boltonmarker, Burymarker, Oldhammarker, Rochdalemarker, Stockportmarker, Tameside, Traffordmarker, Wiganmarker
Merseyside City of Liverpoolmarker, Knowsleymarker, Sefton, St Helensmarker, Wirral
South Yorkshiremarker City of Sheffieldmarker, Barnsley, Doncastermarker, Rotherhammarker
Tyne and Wear City of Newcastle upon Tynemarker, City of Sunderlandmarker, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside
West Midlands City of Birminghammarker, City of Coventrymarker, City of Wolverhamptonmarker, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihullmarker, Walsallmarker
West Yorkshire City of Leedsmarker, City of Bradfordmarker, City of Wakefieldmarker, Calderdalemarker, Kirkleesmarker

The structure of Greater Londonmarker is similar to the metropolitan counties, but it is not one. It was created earlier in 1965, by the London Government Act 1963.



The idea for creating administrative areas based upon the large conurbations outside Londonmarker, based on the model of the County of London or Greater Londonmarker, was mooted several times in the 20th century. The Local Government Boundary Commission in 1948 had proposed several new counties including ones based on 'South East Lancashire North East Cheshiremarker' and 'South West Lancashire North West Cheshire'. The Local Government Commission for England proposed in the 1960s this arrangement for Tyneside and draft proposals considered it for Selnec. Its proposal for the West Midlands conurbation preferred instead an area of contiguous county boroughs with no overall metropolitan authority.

The Redcliffe-Maud Report of 1969 proposed the creation of three large "metropolitan areas" based upon the conurbations surrounding Manchestermarker, Liverpoolmarker and Birminghammarker - Selnecmarker, Merseyside, and West Midlands, which were to have both metropolitan councils covering the entire areas, and district councils covering parts. Harold Wilson's government published a white paper accepting these recommendations broadly, also adding South Hampshiremarker (including the Isle of Wightmarker) and West Yorkshire as metropolitan areas.

The proposals of the report were radically altered when Edward Heath's Conservative government came to power in 1970. The Conservative's local government White Paper was published in February 1971, naming the metropolitan areas "metropolitan counties", and giving them as "Merseyside, south-east Lancashire and north-east Cheshiremarker, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshiremarker, and the Tyne and Wear area".

The counties were also far smaller than in the original proposals, being trimmed at each successive stage - the Redcliffe Maud report had included Chestermarker in Merseyside and Redditch and Staffordmarker in West Midlands. The Conservative policy favoured retaining historic boundaries as far as was practicable, and the White Paper proposals generally reduced the metropolitan counties to the continuously built up area. Many areas on the edges were excluded from the metropolitan counties when the Bill was passed: Easingtonmarker, Harrogatemarker, Knaresboroughmarker, Ellesmere Portmarker, Nestonmarker, New Millsmarker, Whaley Bridgemarker and Glossopmarker : other areas were excluded during the Bill's passage, such as Seahammarker, Skelmersdale and Hollandmarker, Poyntonmarker and Wilmslowmarker. One area, the county borough of Southportmarker, was added to Merseyside in the Bill, at the local council's request.

Several other proposals for metropolitan counties were made during the Bill's passage, including a revival of the proposal for Hampshire (either the southern part or all of it, with Portsmouth, Southampton, Isle of Wight and northern Hampshire as districts) and central Lancashire. A Thamesside metropolitan county, covering areas of north Kentmarker and south Essex on the Thames Estuarymarker (and now considered part of the Thames Gatewaymarker) was also proposed.

The metropolitan counties were established by the Local Government Act 1972, the county councils were first elected in 1973, and were formally established in April 1974.


The metropolitan counties were first created with a two-tier structure of local government. Local government functions were divided between the metropolitan district councils as lower tier authorities and metropolitan county councils (MCCs) as the upper tier.

The structure differed from the non-metropolitan counties in the allocation of powers between the county and district councils. The metropolitan districts had more powers than non-metropolitan districts, in that they were responsible for services such as education, and social services. In the non-metropolitan counties these were the responsibility of the county councils.

The metropolitan county councils (MCCs) were intended to be strategic authorities that ran regional services such as main roads, public transport, emergency services, civil protection, waste disposal, and strategic town and country planning. The MCCs functioned between 1974 and 1986.

Abolition of the county councils

Just a decade after they were established the mostly Labour-controlled metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council had several high profile clashes, about overspending and high rates charging, with the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.

Government policy on the issue was considered throughout 1982, and the Conservative Party put a "promise to scrap the metropolitan county councils" and the GLC, in their manifesto for the 1983 general election.

The exact details of the reform caused problems In October 1983, it published a White Paper entitled Streamlining the cities which proposed detailed plans for the abolition of the MCCs, together with the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC)."Streamlined" city authorities formula unveiled. The Times. October 8, 1983.

The Bill was formally announced in the Queen's Speech and was introduced into Parliament soon thereafter. It became the Local Government Act 1985; the MCCs and the GLC were abolished at midnight on March 31, 1986.

The last elections to the councils were held in May 1981: elections that would have been held in 1985 were abandoned under the Local Government Act 1984; The original plan had been for councillors' terms to expire in April 1985, and then be replaced by nominees from borough councils until 1986.

While GLC abolition was highly controversial, the abolition of the MCCs was much less so. The Liberal Party leader David Steel had supported abolition of the MCCs in his 1981 conference speech . The government's stated reason for the abolition of the MCCs was based on efficiency and their overspending.

However the fact that all of the county councils were controlled by the Labour Party led to accusations that their abolition was motivated by party politics : the general secretary of Nalgo described it as a "completely cynical manoeuvre".Angry reaction to councils White Paper. The Times. October 8, 1983. Merseyside in particular put up a struggle against abolition. Most of the functions of the MCCs passed either to the metropolitan borough councils, or to joint boards. Some assets were given to residuary bodies for disposal. The split of functions from the metropolitan county councils was as follows:

Special joint arrangements Grants to voluntary bodies, roads and traffic management, waste disposal, airports
Joint boards Fire, police, public transport
Quangos Arts, pensions and debt, sport
District council Arts, civil defence, planning, trading standards, parks, tourism, archives, industrial assistance, highways

Current status

Metropolitan boroughs, London boroughs and non-metropolitan unitary authorities are shown (the remaining areas are shire counties)
The metropolitan counties are sometimes referred to as "former metropolitan counties", although this description is not entirely correct. The county councils were abolished, but under the Local Government Act 1972, the counties themselves remain in existence, although they no longer exist in ISO 3166-2:GB as extant administrative subdivisions.

By virtue of the Lieutenancies Act 1997 they remain as ceremonial counties (sometimes called 'geographic counties') which have an appointed Lord-Lieutenant. They are also used in certain government statistics, although they no longer appear on Ordnance Surveymarker maps, which show the individual metropolitan boroughs.

Some local services are still run on a metropolitan county-wide basis, administered by statutory joint boards and special joint arrangements, these include policing (by joint police authorities), fire services, public transport (by Passenger Transport Executives) and waste disposal (in Merseyside and Greater Manchester) These joint boards are made up of councillors appointed by the boroughs. Since 2000, the metropolitan counties have been used as the areas of joint Local Transport Plans.

There has been no great enthusiasm for a return of the MCCs. In 1999, following a successful referendum, the Labour government under Tony Blair legislated to create a strategic authority for London (the Greater London Authority). Despite some talk of doing so, no bodies were established to replace the MCCs. The Blair government instead pursued the idea of elected Regional Assemblies, although following an unsuccessful referendum in the most positive region of the North East, this idea now has few proponents. The idea of city regions has been proposed subsequently, although the 2006 local government white paper has no firm proposals for formal recognition of this concept.

Since 1995, the cities of Birminghammarker, Bristolmarker, Leedsmarker, Liverpoolmarker, Manchestermarker, Newcastlemarker, Nottinghammarker and Sheffieldmarker have assembled together in the English Core Cities Group. This organisation accords no distinct legal status on these councils over any other city council in England but appears to be organically moving towards some kind of recognition of their role as regional capitals outside of London.

See also


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