Last edited 08 Dec 2020

Metropolitan counties

Six ‘metropolitan counties’ were established under the Local Government Act 1972. This Act introduced a major reorganisation of local government boundaries across Great Britain, merging smaller district councils and altering the boundaries of county council areas.

The six metropolitan counties were:

  • West Midlands (Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry).
  • Merseyside (Liverpool, Birkenhead and surrounding areas).
  • Greater Manchester.
  • West Yorkshire (Leeds, Bradford and surrounding areas).
  • South Yorkshire (Sheffield and surrounding areas).
  • Tyne & Wear (Newcastle, Sunderland and surrounding areas).

Before the 1972 reforms, these counties did not exist and in many cases, they included areas which had traditionally been located in two or three different county areas (though most had had their own borough government before 1972, rather than being covered by the county council).

Their new boundaries were drawn with regard to ‘functional economic geography’, encircling cities and their hinterlands, with limited account taken of traditional local area boundaries.

The metropolitan counties existed alongside a lower tier of ‘borough governments’.

The distribution of functions between the tiers of government in the metropolitan county areas was different from that between county and district councils elsewhere. Metropolitan counties were responsible for; police, fire, passenger transport, waste disposal, economic development, and land-use planning; a similar range of functions to that covered by the Greater London Council (and latterly the Greater London Authority).

The metropolitan counties were abolished by the Local Government Act 1985, following the Conservative government's 1984 white paper ‘Streamlining the Cities’. Some of their functions were passed to the borough authorities, which remain in place in those areas as the only level of elected local government. Some of their functions, such as; police, fire, and passenger transport authorities, were taken over by joint committees.

Combined authorities, which have similarities to the metropolitan counties, were introduced by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. They are legal structures that can be created by two or more local authorities in England to undertake joint functions.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority covers the same area as the former Greater Manchester metropolitan county, and Sheffield and Leeds cover the former South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire metropolitan counties. Liverpool includes the borough of Halton, which was within the Cheshire County Council area until becoming unitary in 1998.

The North-Eastern combined authority covers a wider area than the former Tyne & Wear metropolitan county. It covers most of the ‘North-East region’ which was offered a referendum on regional government in 2004. Teesside and Darlington were in the North-East region, but that area has its own Local Enterprise Partnership and has not been part of the discussions around combined authorities.

See Combined authorities for more information.

This article includes information from Combined authorities - Commons Library Standard Note, Parilament, 28 April 2014 provided under Parliamentary Copyright.

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