Last edited 20 Apr 2016

Local authority

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In 1974 a two-tier administrative structure was established for local government in England and Wales with functions allocated at the level at which they could be practised most efficiently.

The two tiers are:

  • County councils, responsible for services across an entire county, such as; education, transport, planning policy, fire, public safety, social care, libraries, waste management, trading standards and so on.
  • District, borough or city councils, covering a smaller area and responsible for local services such as; rubbish collection and recycling, council tax collections, housing and planning applications.

However, a local government reorganisation in the 1990s, introduced unitary authorities. These are single-tier administrations with responsibility for all aspects of local government in their area. Between 1995 and 1998 unitary authorities were established in a number of areas, in particular in medium-sized urban areas, with further reorganisation taking place in 2009.

In London and some metropolitan areas some services are provided through ‘joint authorities’.

Parish, community and town councils operate at a level below district and borough councils and in some cases, unitary authorities. They can provide help on issues such as; allotments, bus shelters, community centres, play areas, grants, neighbourhood planning and so on. They can also issue fixed penalty fines for issues such as littering and graffiti. provides a search tool to help find local authorities.

Local councillors are elected for a 4-year term and are responsible for all decisions. Some councils have a civic mayor or chairman of the council to carry out ceremonial duties and chair meetings. Some councils have an elected mayor responsible for the day-to-day running of services.

The local planning authority is usually the planning department of the district or borough council. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines a local planning authority as, '...the public authority whose duty it is to carry out specific planning functions for a particular area. All references to local planning authority apply to the district council, London borough council, county council, Broads Authority, National Park Authority and the Greater London Authority, to the extent appropriate to their responsibilities.'

Building Regulations approvals can be sought either from the building control department of the local authority or from an approved inspector.

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