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Parishes and Communities

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The smallest type of administrative area in England is the parish (also known as 'civil parish'); the equivalent units in Wales are communities. 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.

ONS Geography does not hold a list of Scottish communities.

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 concerning 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 byelaws. 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 boundaries but are not contiguous with electoral wards. In some smaller urban areas, successor parishes were then created, but this was not universal. In consequence some areas of the country have parishes and others not, making them an unsatisfactory unit for national statistical production.

Although parishes are affected by the boundary changes of the county districts or unitary authorities in which they fall, they are not contiguous with electoral wards. Many parishes are a similar size to wards, but some can contain several wards, and ward boundaries need not be followed. As at 31st December 2013 there were 10501 parishes in England.

Welsh Communities

Communities, which fit into and change with unitary authorities, are the Welsh equivalent of parishes. 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 delineated 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 (CCs) are not statutory and only exist if volunteers are willing to run them. In consequence there are approximately 1200 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 principle 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 (eg 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 local authority funding for running costs only.CCs can however obtain grants for specific schemes.

In fact, although some are supportive, many local authorities 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 Eilean Siar (formerly known as '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.

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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