Skip to content

Parishes and Communities

Related Links

The smallest type of administrative area in England is the parish (aka 'civil parish'); the equivalent unit in Wales is the community. Scotland also has communities but their councils are generally a channel of opinion to other authorities rather than an administration in their own right. Northern Ireland does not have any similar units.

English Parishes

English parishes are a very old form of spatial unit which originally represented areas of both civil and ecclesiastical administration. They used to be significant local government areas but now have very limited functions. Modern parish councils (which may choose to call themselves a town council) can provide facilities such as village halls, war memorials, cemeteries, leisure facilities and playgrounds. They have duties such as maintenance of public footpaths and may also spend money on cultural projects, community transport initiatives and crime-prevention equipment. In addition they must be notified of all planning applications and consulted on the making of certain by-laws. However, not all parishes have a council – if there are fewer than 200 parishioners, or if the parishioners do not want one, decisions can instead be taken at parish meetings. The geography is further complicated by the fact that several smaller parishes may come together to elect a joint council. Parishes are confined within local authority district boundaries but are not contiguous with electoral wards. In some smaller urban areas, successor parishes have been  created, but this is  not universal. Consequently some areas of the country have parishes and others don't, making them an unsatisfactory unit for producing National Statistics.

Many parishes are a similar size to wards, but some can contain several wards, and ward boundaries need not be followed. As at 31 December 2015 there were 10,449 parishes in England.

English Non-civil Parish Areas

Non-civil parish areas (NCP) refer to the area in a local authority not comprised of parishes, i.e. unparished areas.

Welsh Communities

The Welsh equivalent of parishes are communities, which fit into and change with unitary authorities. Their councils have similar powers to English parish councils and may also choose to call themselves town councils. Unlike parishes in England, communities cover the whole of Wales, and this gives them greater potential as a statistical unit. There are 870 communities in Wales, over 730 of which currently have a council. Prior to 1974 Wales also had parishes, but these were technically abolished when communities were introduced, despite the new communities initially being aligned to the old parish boundaries.

Scottish Communities

All of Scotland has had communities delineated, which fit into and change with council areas. However, community councils (CC) are not statutory and only exist if volunteers are willing to run them. In consequence there are approximately 1,200 such councils, which can represent either single delineated communities or groups of them. There are also nearly 200 communities, mostly in the larger cities, which have no council.

The principal role of CCs is to act as a channel for the views of local communities. They have a legal right to be notified of and respond to planning applications and can be involved in a range of activities, mostly related to local infrastructure and community events (e.g. playgrounds, bus shelters, village halls, footpaths, flower beds, Christmas celebrations). Not all CCs participate, however, and those that do have to rely on voluntary work and fund-raising; many receive council area funding for running costs only. CCs can however obtain grants for specific schemes.

In fact, although some are supportive, many council areas tend to disregard their CCs and do not consider them to be a tier of government, even though they legally can have that role. It is only in Na h-Eileanan Siar (formerly known as "Eilean Siar" / 'Western Isles'), Orkney and especially in Shetland that CCs are viewed as an important tier in the administrative structure and have a correspondingly larger budget. Scotland's network of parishes was abolished for administrative purposes in 1973, when CCs were initiated. Unlike in Wales, these new CCs were not necessarily based on old parish areas. As indicated, CCs fit inside council area boundaries, whereas the old parish geography no longer corresponds with any modern administrative pattern.

We do not hold a list of Scottish communities.


Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.