Civil parish

Civil parish

A civil parish in the United Kingdom is a unit of local government. The civil parish has its origins in the system of ecclesiastical parishes, but civil parishes have often deviated from the latter's borders as time has progressed.

The use of parishes varies across the constituent countries of the UK and Ireland.

In England, the parish forms a feature of local administration and is the lowest unit of government, below districts and counties. All pre-existing civil parishes in England and Wales, formed in 1894, were abolished as of 1 April 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972, with new parishes created by or under that Act for England.

In Wales parishes were replaced by communities; community councils in Wales are in all essential aspects equivalent to parish councils in England.

In Scotland, parishes, as units of local government, were abolished by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. The geographical area is still however, referred to infrequently for statistical purposes. As in Wales, a new system of communities has arisen and these have taken on some of the roles of parishes. However, unlike in England and Wales, the Scottish community council has no statutory powers, although in some cases local councils have a legal obligation to include them in consultation exercises.

Civil parishes in Ireland, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, are a largely obsolete land division intermediate in size betwen Baronies and Townlands. They reflect the historic religious parishes and co-incide to a large degree with modern religious parishes.

In the Republic of Ireland they are maintained legally but only for limited purposes. There is a provision in Irish law for "local councils" but it has never seen significant implementation [Dublin, Ireland, 1941: Houses of the Oireachtas, Local Government Act 1941, ss. 72-75, viz "72. —(1) Where the inhabitants of a locality in a county health district have, either before or after the commencement of this section, established a council, committee, or other body whether corporate or unincorporated, for furthering the general social and economic interests of such inhabitants, the council of the county in which such county health district is situate may, on the application of such body, by resolution declare that such body shall be an approved local council for the purposes of this Part of this Act. (2) The power to make a declaration under this section shall be a reserved function for the purposes of the County Management Act, 1940. 73. —(1) The county council may provide a building for use by an approved local council for public and other meetings and for lectures, exhibitions, general recreation or other similar social objects and may entrust the care and management of such building to such local council either temporarily or permanently. 74. —(1) The county council may delegate to an approved local council any of the powers and duties of such county council which, in the opinion of such county council, would be better regulated or managed by or through such approved local council and such county council may at any time revoke such delegation."] .


The division into parishes is an ancient one, the name is ultimately derived from the Latin "parochia", which were divisions used by the early Christian Church. In England and Wales parishes arose from Church of England divisions, and were originally purely ecclesiastical divisions, but over time they became used for some purposes of civil administration.Winchester, A. (2000). "Discovering parish boundaries". Shire Publications. Princes Riseborough, Bucks.:United Kingdom. ISBN 0-7478-0470-2]

Under the Highways Act 1555, parishes became responsible for upkeep of roads. Every adult inhabitant of the parish was obliged to work four days (and soon after six days) a year on the roads, providing their own tools, carts and horses. The work was overseen by an unpaid local appointee, the Surveyor of Highways. This function was transferred to Highway Boards in 1855 and later to County Councils. See also toll roads.

The poor had previously been looked after by the monasteries until their dissolution. In 1572, the magistrates were given power to 'survey the poor' and impose taxes for their relief. This system was made more formal by the Poor Law Act 1601, which made parishes responsible for administering the Poor Law. They appointed overseers, who could charge a rate to support the poor of the parish. The 19th century saw an increase in the responsibility of parishes, although the poor law powers were transferred to Poor Law Unions. These often later became Rural Districts.

The parishes were run by vestries, meeting annually to appoint these officials. Most were "open" (where all ratepayers in the parish could attend) but a few were "select" (elected). These parishes were generally identical to ecclesiastical parishes. However some townships in large parishes administered the Poor Law themselves. The latter part of the century saw most of the ancient irregularities in the system cleaned up, with the majority of exclaves abolished. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1866 declared all areas that levied a separate rate (that is, extra-parochial areas and townships, and chapelries) become civil parishes as well. Also borders were altered to avoid parishes being split between counties. Any place that could claim to be free of any poor rate obligation was referred to as "extra-parochial". Such places were often old church lands, and a few still existed in the 20th century.

Civil parishes in their modern sense were established in 1894, by the Local Government Act 1894. The Act abolished vestries, and established elected parish councils in all rural civil parishes with more than 300 electors. These were grouped into rural districts.

Urban parishes continued to exist, and were generally coterminous with the urban district or municipal borough in which they were situated. Large towns originally split between multiple parishes were, for the most part, eventually consolidated into one parish. No parish councils were formed for urban parishes, and their only function was as areas electing guardians to Poor Law Unions. With the abolition of the poor law system in 1930 the parishes had only a nominal existence.

In Scotland, parish councils were established by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1894 and then abolished in 1930. The parishes themselves were formally abolished in 1975, but were replaced with communities.

In 1965 civil parishes in London were formally abolished when Greater London was created, the legislative framework for Greater London did not make provision for any local government body below a London borough (since all of London was previously part of a metropolitan borough, municipal borough or urban district, no actual parish councils were abolished).

In 1974 the Local Government Act 1972 retained civil parishes in rural areas and small urban areas, but abolished them in larger urban areas. In Wales civil parishes were abolished by the 1972 Act, and replaced with community councils. Many former urban districts and municipal boroughs that were being abolished rather than succeeded were continued as new parishes. Urban areas that were considered too large to be single parishes were refused this permission and became unparished areas.

The Act also led to the possibility of sub-division of all districts (apart from London boroughs, reformed in 1965), into multiple civil parishes. For example, Oxford, whilst entirely unparished in 1974, now has four civil parishes, covering part of its area.



Civil parishes do not cover the whole of England, and most exist in rural and smaller urban areas. Civil parishes were abolished in London in 1965, and in other large urban areas in 1974, by which time their influence was largely nominal in the urban districts and boroughs.

Civil parishes vary greatly in size: many cover tiny hamlets with populations of less than 100, whereas some large parishes cover towns with populations of tens of thousands. Weston-super-Mare, with a population of 71,758, is the most populous civil parish. In many cases, several small villages are located in a single parish.

Large urban areas are mostly unparished, as the government at the time of the Local Government Act 1972 discouraged their creation for large towns or their suburbs, but there is generally nothing to stop their establishment. For example, Birmingham has a parish, New Frankley, whilst Oxford has four, and Northampton has seven. Parishes could not however be established in London until the changing of the law in 2007 and as yet none have been established there.

The present government encourages the creation of town and parish councils in unparished areas. The Local Government and Rating Act 1997 created a procedure which gave local residents the right to demand that a new parish and council be created in unparished areas. [ [ What is a parish or town council] - From] This was extended to London boroughs by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. [This was ss.58-77 of bill, which received royal assent on 30 October 2007:]

If at least 10% of electors in an area of a proposed new parish sign a petition demanding its creation, then the local district council or unitary authority must consider the proposal. The final decision rests with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Recently established parish councils include Daventry (2003), Folkestone (2004), and Brixham (2007). In 2003 seven new parish councils were set up for Burton upon Trent, and in 2001 the Milton Keynes urban area became entirely parished, with ten new parishes being created. In 2003, the village of Great Coates (Grimsby) regained parish status. Parishes can also be abolished on request, such as Birtley, which was abolished on April 1, 2006.


A parish council can become a town council unilaterally, simply by making a resolution to do so. Around 400 parish councils are called town councils.

Under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, a civil parish may nowcall itself by an "alternative style" meaning one of the following:


A parish can gain city status but only if that is granted by the Crown. In England, there are currently seven parishes with city status: Chichester, Ely, Hereford, Lichfield, Ripon, Truro and Wells. The chairman of a town council will have the title "town mayor" and that of parish council which is a city will usually have the title of mayor.

As a result, a parish council can also be called a town council, a community council, a village council or occasionally a city council (though most cities are not parishes but principal areas, or in England specifically metropolitan boroughs, non-metropolitan districts).

Parish administration

Every civil parish (or community) has a parish meeting, consisting of all the electors of the parish (or community). Generally a meeting is held once a year. A civil parish may have a Parish council which exercises various local responsibilities given by statute.

If a parish has fewer than 200 electors it is usually deemed too small to have a parish council, and instead will only have a parish meeting; an example of direct democracy. Alternatively several small parishes can be grouped together and share a common parish council, or even a common parish meeting. In places where there is no civil parish (unparished areas), the administration of the activities normally undertaken by the parish becomes the responsibility of the district or borough council.

There are about 8,700 parish and town councils in England, and about 1,500 parishes with only parish meetings. [ [ Office for the Deputy Prime Minister. Local government finance statistics] ] Since 1997 around 100 new civil parishes have been created, in some cases splitting existing civil parishes, but mostly by creating new ones from unparished areas.

Powers and functions

Typical activities undertaken by parish or town councils include: [ [ Full list of powers of parish councils] - Downloadable Microsoft Word Document]

* The provision and upkeep of certain local facilities such as allotments, bus shelters, parks, playgrounds, public seats, public toilets, public clocks, street lights, village or town halls, and various leisure and recreation facilities.

* Maintenance of footpaths, cemeteries and village greens

* Since 1997 parish councils have had new powers to provide community transport (such as a minibus), crime prevention measures (such as CCTV) and to contribute money towards traffic calming schemes.

* Parish councils are supposed to act as a channel of local opinion to larger local government bodies, and as such have the right to be consulted on any planning decisions affecting the parish.

* Giving of grants to local voluntary organisations, and sponsoring public events, including entering Britain in Bloom.

The role played by parish councils varies. Smaller parish councils have only limited resources and generally play only a minor role, while some larger parish councils have a role similar to that of a small district council.

Parish councils receive funding by levying a "precept" on the council tax paid by the residents of the parish.

Councillors and elections

Parish councils are run by volunteer councillors who are elected to serve for four years and it is rare for them to be paid. The number of councillors varies roughly in proportion to the population of the parish.

Most parish councillors are elected to represent the entire parish, though in parishes with larger populations or those that cover large areas, the parish can be divided into wards. These wards then return a certain number of councillors each to the parish council (depending on their population).

Only if there are more candidates standing for election than there are seats on the council will an election be held. It is common in rural parishes for the number of seats available to exceed the number of candidates. When this happens, the vacant seats have to be filled by co-option by the council.

When a vacancy arises for a seat mid-term, an election is only held if a certain number (usually 10) of parish residents request an election. Otherwise the council will co-opt someone to be the replacement councillor.

Every Parish and Community Council in England and Wales must adopt a code of conduct, and parish councillors must comply with its standards, enforced by the Standards Board for England or the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. (Scottish community councillors are not subject to similar personal controls.)

Charter Trustees

When a city or town has been abolished as a borough, and it is considered desirable to maintain continuity of the charter, the charter may be transferred to a parish council for its area. Where there is no such parish council, the district council may appoint Charter Trustees to whom the charter and the arms of the former borough will belong. The Charter Trustees (who consist of the councillor or councillors for the area of the former borough) maintain traditions such as mayoralty.

An example of such a city was Hereford, whose city council was merged in 1998 to form a unitary Herefordshire. The area of the city of Hereford remained unparished until 2000 when a parish council was created for the city. The charter trustees for the City of Bath make up the majority of the councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Deserted parishes

The 2001 census recorded several parishes with no inhabitants. These were Chester Castle (in the middle of Chester city centre), Newland with Woodhouse Moor, Beaumont Chase, Martinsthorpe, Meering, Stanground North (subsequently abolished), Sturston, Tottington, and Tyneham. The last three had been taken over by the British Armed Forces during World War II and remain deserted.

cotland, Wales and Ireland

Civil parishes in Scotland can be dated from 1845, when parochial boards were established to administer the poor law. While they originally corresponded to the parishes of the Church of Scotland, the number and boundaries of parishes soon diverged. Where a parish contained a burgh, a separate "landward" parish was formed for the portion outside the town. Until 1891 many parishes lay in more than one county. In that year, under the terms of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 the boundaries of the civil parishes and counties were realigned so that each parish was wholly within a single county. In 1894 the parochial boards were replaced by more democratically elected parish councils. These were in turn abolished in 1930, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. Although civil parishes have had no administrative role since that date, they have continued to exist. They were used to define some of the local authorities created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, they continue to be used for census purposes and they are used as part of the coding system for agricultural holdings under the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) used to administer schemes within the Common Agricultural Policy. According to the website of the General Register Office for Scotland, there are now 871 civil parishes. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]

Since 1975, Scotland has had bodies called community councils, but these are not equivalent to and have fewer powers than the English parishes and Welsh communities. The area of some of these is defined in terms of civil parishes.

In the Republic of Ireland, counties are divided into civil parishes. Irish civil parishes are themselves divided into townlands. Counties are also divided into larger subdivisions called baronies, which are made up of a number of parishes or parts of parishes. Both civil parishes and baronies are now, for the most part, obsolete (except for some purposes such as legal transactions involving land) and are no longer used for local government purposes.

For poor law purposes District Electoral Divisions replaced the civil parishes in the mid-nineteenth century.

The future

In October 2006, the DCLG white paper "Strong and prosperous communities" proposed a wide-ranging set of reforms to the future of civil parishes. This includes ending the Secretary of State's power to approve the creation of new parishes and by-laws, ending the legislative bar on the creation of civil parishes in London (mentioned above), the power to enforce by-laws through fixed penalty notices and the ability to style parish councils as 'community', 'neighbourhood' or 'village' councils. The power to approve new parishes will now reside with district or unitary councils, who will also have the right to provide for alternative arrangements in non-parished areas such as neighbourhood committees. Department For Communities And Local Government (2006). "Strong and Prosperous Communities: The Local Government White Paper (Command Paper)". The Stationery Office Books. London. ISBN 0101693923. ]

Parishes in other countries

In the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, like Ireland, civil parishes still exist but only as largely obsolete (and obscure) geographical references, used almost exclusively in legal documents relating to land titles, see cadastral divisions of Australia.

Parishes survive as valid administrative units in various other Commonwealth countries such as Grenada (see Parishes of Grenada).

In Norway, the Local Government Act 1837 divided the country into municipalities and civil parishes. The civil parishes had a very few functions in the 20th century (mainly church maintenance), and were abolished in 1950. The parishes are still subdivisions of the Norwegian State Church.

In Portugal there are over 4,200 civil parishes (officially known as freguesias). They resulted from the transformation, starting with the administrative reform of 1836, of religious into civil units. Civil parishes have elected officials, and among their functions are local roads, kindergartens, retirement houses, parks, and cemeteries. Fact|date=March 2008 Religious parishes (in Portuguese, paróquias) may or may not coincide geographically with civil parishes.

Parishes are used in the U.S. state of Louisiana instead of counties.

ee also

*List of civil parishes in England
*List of civil parishes in Scotland
*Community councils in Wales and Scotland
*Communes of France - The French equivalent of civil parishes.
*Civil township - US equivalent of civil parishes.


External links

* [ The National Association of Local Councils] - represents English parish councils and Welsh community councils
* [ One Voice Wales]
*PDFlink| [ Consultation document explaining costs and benefits of a parish council for Ramsgate]

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