1. Wales

Wales is subject to the administration of both the UK Government in Westminster and also the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff.

The UK Government retains responsibility for non-devolved topics, but the National Assembly has powers to make legislation in devolved topics such as health, education, agriculture, local government, environment, and culture.

Wales is subdivided into 22 unitary authorities, which in turn are divided into electoral wards and communities.

Wales's geographical structure

Wales (W92)

  • Unitary Authorities (W06)
    – Electoral Wards (W05)
    – Communities (W04)
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2. Unitary authorities

Following the 1994 Local Government (Wales) Act, the eight counties and 37 districts of Wales were replaced in April 1996 by 22 unitary authorities (UA) with responsibilities for all aspects of local government.

Eight of the UAs (Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Torfaen, Wrexham and Rhondda Cynon Taf) have county borough status (reflecting their existence as large population centres), whilst the other 14 have county status (reflecting at least some aspect of rurality). These definitions do not, however, affect authority structures.

UAs are built from electoral wards. They are also divided into communities.

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3. Electoral wards/electoral divisions

Electoral wards/divisions are the key building blocks of UK administrative geography. Electoral wards are the spatial units used to elect local government councillors in unitary authorities in Wales.

Electoral wards/divisions are also found in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

They are also used to constitute a range of other geographies such as the health geographies and Westminster parliamentary constituencies.

Welsh unitary authorities average around 40 electoral wards each, English local authority districts (LAD) (both metropolitan and non-metropolitan), London boroughs and unitary authorities average around 23 electoral wards/divisions each, Scottish council areas around 11, and Northern Irish local government districts around 42.

Ward population counts can vary substantially, even within a single LAD, but the UK average is about 5,500. The Wales figure is 3,725.

More populous electoral wards tend to occur in large urban areas.

Electoral ward boundary changes are usually enacted on the first Thursday in May each year, to coincide with the local government elections.

As of 6 May 2021, the UK has 8,694 electoral wards/divisions, with 852 electoral wards in Wales.

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4. Parishes and communities

The smallest type of administrative area in Wales is the community.

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 877 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.

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