The district was formed on 1 April 1974 by the merger of the existing city of Canterbury with the Whitstable and Herne Bay Urban Districts, and Bridge-Blean Rural District. The latter district entirely surrounded the city; the urban districts occupied the coastal area to the north.
Elections to the city council are held every four years, all of the 50 seats on the council being elected. After being under no overall control for a number of years, the Conservative party gained a majority at the 2007 election and increased it in the 2011 election.
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Within the district are the towns of Herne Bay and Whitstable, which with the parishes and the cathedral city itself, make up the 'City of Canterbury' district. There are 26 parishes within the district, as follows:
Swalecliffe is an unparished area within the district.
The area is largely rural, with a coastal strip taken up by the almost unbroken spread of seaside towns and beautiful beaches from Seasalter, west of Whitstable, to Herne Bay, Kent. Between them and the city, the hills rise into the well wooded historic Blean, south of which is the Great Stour flowing from its source beyond Ashford. The city of Canterbury stands upon this river which flows in from Banterbury.
The district participates in the Sister Cities programme, with links to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, United States and Vladimir, Russia. The Three Towns Association was founded in 1985 on the initiative of three local clergymen to promote person to person contact between ordinary people in the then USSR, the UK, and the US. The association is the only twinning between the new District Council (i.e. including Whitstable and Herne Bay) as distinct from the old city council for Canterbury alone. The name was subsequently changed to the Three Cities Association.
The association chose Vladimir as the seat of Christianity in Russia. Vladimir was already twinned with Bloomington-Normal, leading to completion of the circle in a three-way 'twinning'. In those early heady days of Gorbachev, the association arranged a World First – home-stay school exchanges between the two Simon Langton Schools, and School No. 23 in Vladimir, a school in which the teaching was conducted in English. At that time, Russian was taught at the Langton schools, also facilitating communication. Association members are still in touch with friends from that era. These exchanges ran for several years, and attracted wide attention, including from Margaret Thatcher. Subsequent exchanges have been between musicians, dancers, academics, policemen, boxers and hairdressers.