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Unitary authority
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Unitary authority

A unitary authority is a term used in a two-tier local government system to describe a unit of local government that operates as a single tier.

Table of contents
1 New Zealand
2 United Kingdom

New Zealand

In New Zealand a unitary authority is a territorial authority (district or city) which also performs the functions of a regional council. New Zealand has three unitary authorities: Gisborne District, Nelson City and Tasman District.

United Kingdom

The term 'unitary authority' itself first surfaced in the Redcliffe-Maud Report, to describe the sort of authority the report recommended cover most of England. These sorts of authorities already existed and were called county boroughs; but the term was urban in character. The Report was rejected by the incoming government after the 1970 general election, and county boroughs were abolished in 1974. It was not until the 1990s that unitary authorities would be created in the UK.

Creation of unitary authorities

Unitary authorities can be created by statutory instruments, so do not require separate legislation, under the terms of the Local Government Act 1992. Typically a district of an administrative county is designated as a new administrative county, but without a county council. The borders of the original county are adjusted to exclude the unitary authority area. In common usage unitary authority areas are not usually referred to as counties, although there are exceptions such as the Herefordshire and Rutland, which are reinstatements of counties lost in the 1974 reorganisation.

In some cases, such as the boroughs of metropolitan counties and Berkshire a different process was followed, where the county council was abolished, and its functions merely transferred to the districts.

Scotland and Wales consistently use unitary authorities. They have been becoming common in England since the 1990s. However the two-tier arrangement (increasing to three-tiers, for the remaining county administrations) has remained in a different form due to the introduction of a regional level of administration.

London boroughs (including the City of London), the Isles of Scilly, are also counted as unitary authorities.

Listings of unitary authorities in England can be found by region, or in Subdivisions of England.