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A unitary authority is a type of local authority that has a single tier and is responsible for all local government functions within its area or performs additional functions which elsewhere in the relevant country are usually performed by national government or a higher level of sub-national government.

Typically unitary authorities cover towns or cities which are large enough to function independently of county or other regional administration. Sometimes they consist of national sub-divisions which are distinguished from others in the same country by having no lower level of administration.


More commonly referred to as single-tier municipalities, they exist as a single level of government in a province that otherwise has two levels of local government. One should not confuse municipalities in provinces with no upper-level of local government as single-tier municipalities, as these are the only level of local government in that province.

Structure of a single-tier municipality varies, and while most function as cities with no upper level of government, some function as counties or regional municipalities with no lower municipal subdivisions below them. The vast majority of Canadian single-tier municipalities are located in Ontariomarker, where they exist as individual census divisions, as well as separated municipalities.


In Germanymarker, kreisfreie Stadt is the equivalent term for a city which is responsible for the local and the Kreis (district) administrative level (the British counties having no directly corresponding counterpart in Germany).

New Zealand

In New Zealandmarker a unitary authority is a territorial authority (district or city) which also performs the functions of a regional council. New Zealand has four unitary authorities: Gisborne Districtmarker, Nelson Citymarker, Tasman Districtmarker and Marlborough Districtmarker. The Chatham Islandsmarker Council is not usually considered a unitary authority, although it acts as a regional council for the purposes of the Resource Management Act 1991.


In Polandmarker a miasto na prawach powiatu or powiat grodzki (city with powiat rights or urban county) is a city which is also responsible for district (powiat) administrative level, being part of no other powiat (eg. Poznańmarker, Krakówmarker, Łódźmarker). In total 65 cities in Poland have this status.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, "unitary authorities" are English or Welsh local authorities set up by the Local Government Act 1992 which form a single tier of local government, and are responsible for almost all local government functions within their areas.

This is opposed to the two-tier system of local government, which still exists in most of Englandmarker, where local government functions are divided between county councils (the upper tier) and district councils. Until 1996 similar two-tier systems existed in Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker, but these have now been replaced by fully unitary systems. A unitary system has existed in Northern Irelandmarker since 1973.


Northern Ireland

Districts of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is divided into 26 single tier local government districts. The councils do not carry out the same range of functions as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, e.g. they have no responsibility for education, for road building or for housing. The districts are often combined for various purposes including Education Boards, Health Boards and Eurostat statistical units. Districts are variously styled 'District Council', 'Borough Council', 'City Council' and 'City and District Council'.

Category: Subdivisions of Northern Ireland

Under the Review of Public Administration (RPA) the number of councils is due to be reduced to 11 in 2011.

Category: Proposed districts of Northern Ireland


Local authorities in Scotlandmarker are unitary in nature but not in name. The Local Government etc. Act 1994 created a single tier of local government throughout Scotland. On 1 April 1996, 32 local government areas, each with a council, replaced the previous two-tier structure, which had regional, islands and district councils. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (formerly the Western Isles Council) uses the alternative Gaelic designation Comhairle. The phrase "unitary authority" is not used in Scottish legislation (whether from the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament), although the term is commonly used in publications, and by United Kingdom government departments.


Local authorities in Walesmarker are unitary in nature (although the term has no legal status in Wales) and are described by the Local Government Act 1994 as "principal councils". Various other legislation includes the counties and county boroughs of Wales within their individual interpretations of the phrase "unitary authority". In s.2 of the Act each council formed for a county is allocated the respective English and Welsh descriptions of "County Council" or "Cyngor Sir", each council formed for a County Borough is allocated the respective descriptions of "County Borough Council" or "Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol"; in all cases the shorter alternative forms "Council" or "Cyngor" can be used.

Similar to the civil parishes in England, the lowest tier of local government in Wales are the communities. All of the unitary principal councils are fully divided into communities, but not all such communities have established community councils.


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