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.
2 Central Europe
4 New Zealand
6 United Kingdom
6.2 Northern Ireland
7 United States
8 See also
In Canada, each province creates its own system of local government,
so terminology varies substantially.
In certain provinces (e.g. Alberta, Nova Scotia) there is only one
level of local government in that province, so no special term is used
to describe the situation.
British Columbia has only one such municipality, Northern Rockies
Regional Municipality, which was established in 2009.
Ontario the term single-tier municipalities is used, for a similar
concept. Their character 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. They exist as individual census divisions, as well as separated
In Germany, kreisfreie Stadt (literally circle-free city) is the
equivalent term for a city with the competences of both the Gemeinde
(municipality) and the Kreis (district, literally circle)
administrative level. The directly elected chief executive officer of
a kreisfreie Stadt is called Oberbürgermeister (literally Superior
Burgomaster, in English "Chief Mayor" or "Lord Mayor"). The British
counties have no directly corresponding counterpart in Germany. This
German system corresponds to statutory cities in Austria and in the
Until 1 January 2007, the municipalities of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg
and Bornholm were not a part of a Danish county.
In New Zealand, a unitary authority is a territorial authority
(district or city) that also performs the functions of a regional
council (first-level division). There are five unitary authorities;
they are (with the year they were constituted): Gisborne District
Council (1989), Nelson
City Council (1992), Tasman District Council
Marlborough District Council
Marlborough District Council (1992), and Auckland Council
The Chatham Islands, located east of the South Island, have a council
with its own special legislation, constituted (1995) with powers
similar to those of a regional authority.
City with powiat rights
In Poland, a miasto na prawach powiatu, or shortly powiat grodzki
(city with powiat rights, or urban county in short) is a, typically
big, city which is also responsible for district (poviat)
administrative level, being part of no other powiat (e.g. Kraków,
Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań). In total, 65 cities in
Poland have this
Bournemouth: Unitary Authority tree. The tree on the left, on the
concourse of the
Town Hall, was planted on 1 April 1997 to
mark the occasion of
Bournemouth council becoming a unitary authority
on that day. This was part of the Local Government Reorganisation of
the late 1990s, when certain more urban districts were essentially
separated from the relevant county council, with now no services for
Bournemouth residents carried out by Dorset
In the United Kingdom, "unitary authorities" are English local
authorities set up in accordance with the Local Government Changes for
England Regulations 1994 made under powers conferred by the Local
Government Act 1992 to form a single tier of local government in
specified areas and which are responsible for almost all local
government functions within such areas. While outwardly appearing to
be similar, single-tier authorities formed using older legislation are
not Unitary Authorities thus excluding e.g. the Isle of Wight Council
or any other single-tier authority formed under the Local Government
Act 1972 or older legislation.
This is distinct from the two-tier system of local government which
still exists in most of England, where local government functions are
divided between county councils (the upper tier) and district or
borough councils. Until 1996 two-tier systems existed in
Wales, but these have now been replaced by systems based on a
single-tier of local government with some functions shared between
groups of adjacent authorities. A single-tier system has existed in
Northern Ireland since 1973.
For many years the description of the number of tiers in UK local
government arrangements has routinely ignored any current or previous
bodies at the lowest level of authorities elected by the voters within
their area such as parish (in England and Wales) or community
councils; such bodies do not exist or have not existed in all areas.
Main article: Unitary authorities of England
Districts of Northern Ireland
Local government in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is divided into 11 districts for local government
Northern Ireland local councils have no responsibility
for education, road building or housing (though they do nominate
members to the advisory
Northern Ireland Housing Council). Their
functions include waste and recycling services, leisure and community
services, building control and local economic and cultural
development. They are not planning authorities, but are consulted on
some planning applications. The collection of rates is handled by the
Land and Property Services
Land and Property Services agency.
Category: Subdivisions of Northern Ireland
Local authorities in
Scotland are unitary in nature but not in name.
Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994
Local Government etc. (Scotland) 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
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
encountered (used either descriptively or erroneously) in
publications and in (usually erroneous) use by United Kingdom
Local authorities in
Wales are unitary in nature but are described by
Local Government (Wales) Act 1994
Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 as "principal councils", and
their areas as principal areas. Various other legislation (e.g.
s.91(1) Environment Act 1995) includes the counties and county
Wales within their individual interpretations of the
phrase "unitary authority" as an interpretive not a definitive
description. 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
Wales are the communities. All of the principal councils
are fully divided into communities, but not all such communities have
established community councils.
There are several types of single-tier governments in the United
States. In the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and much of
Massachusetts, county government has been abolished, and the
municipalities (known as New England towns) are the only governing
tier below the state government, though the former counties still
exist in the ceremonial sense. In some areas, the reverse is true; for
Howard County, Maryland
Howard County, Maryland and
Arlington County, Virginia
Arlington County, Virginia are
examples of counties that, despite being densely developed, have no
municipalities and are thus the only tier of general-purpose local
In Virginia, all municipalities with city status are, by definition,
independent from any county. Three other cities across the United
States are also independent of any county government: Baltimore,
Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, and Carson City, Nevada. There are also
several consolidated cities where the county government and municipal
government are unified.
San Francisco and
Philadelphia are two
examples, wherein the city and county are coterminous and have one
singular governing body.
^ "Fort Nelson becomes B.C.'s first Regional Municipality". Brent
Hodson. February 10, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
^ "2013 Census definitions and forms: U". Statistics New Zealand.
Retrieved 30 April 2014.
^ "Glossary". localcouncils.govt.nz. Department of Internal Affairs.
Retrieved 30 April 2014.
Chatham Islands Council Act 1995 No 41 (as at 01 July 2013), Public
Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation". Parliamentary Counsel
Office. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
^ "Minutes of the Statutory Meeting of the
Chatham Islands Council"
Chatham Islands Council. October 2010. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
^ "About Falkirk Council". Falkirk Council. Retrieved 22 February
^ "Local Councils in Scotland". DirectGov. Retrieved 22 February
^ "Local Government (Wales) Act 1994". Retrieved 16 Sep