The National Gazetteer of Wales

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Administrative Wales

This section of the Gazetteer describes the principal administrative bodies and areas of Wales. Those subjects covered are:

1. A Note on Administrative Geography
2. The United Kingdom Parliament
3. The National Assembly for Wales
4. Local Government
      i. Principal Areas (Unitary Authorites)
      ii. Communities
5. The Police Service
6. The Fire Service
7. The National Health Service
8. The Preserved Counties
9. The Criminal and Civil Law
10. The Registration Service
11. The Lieutenancies
12. The Shrievalty

1. A Note on Administrative Geography

As can be seen from the contents of this section of the Gazetteer, there are many types of public administration within Wales. Each of the various forms of administration and public service provision has its own associated "administrative geography". Maps of some of these administrative geographies are included in the relevant subsections below.

Note that the various administrative geographies are not all sub-divisions of a single geographical framework. There is a great deal of overlap between the areas of the different types of administration. There are also many instances where the same name is used for two different areas. For example, the preserved county of "Gwynedd" is a very different area from the unitary authority area of the same name. The parliamentary constituency called "Conwy" is radically different from the unitary authority area of that name. The "South Wales" police area and the "South Wales" fire authority area are also very different areas.

There has been a tendency in recent years to try to use administrative areas in a general geographical context. It should be remembered that each administrative geography has been created (usually by an Act of Parliament) to facilitate the provision of a particular public service (or set of services). None has been invested with a wider geographical or cultural role. Clearly, the multitude of different types of administrative areas one could choose from, the ever-changing names and areas of administrative areas, the fact that many administrative areas borrow the name of a town within them, and the general unfamiliarity of the public with administrative geographies all make them rather unsuitable as a basis for popular, general geography. Popular geography is better based upon the fixed, and more historically and culturally relevant, framework of the Counties of Wales.

The interests of clarity require that reference to a particular administrative area should only be made when discussing an aspect of the administration for which that administrative area exists. It must also be made clear what type of area is being referred to (e.g. if discussing a health issue it should be made clear that it is Health Authority area which is being referred to).

2. The United Kingdom Parliament

The UK Parliament is responsible for all primary legislation relating to Wales. The UK Government is also responsible for many important areas of public policy and administration including the criminal justice system, the police service, the fire service, social security, taxation, macro economic policy, defence and foreign affairs.

The Office of the Secretary of State for Wales came into being on July 1st 1999 when most of the powers of the former Welsh Office were transferred to the National Assembly for Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales' job is to make sure that the interests of Wales are fully considered when Government policy is developed at Westminster. He is also responsible for guiding through Parliamentary legislation which concerns only Wales. He has the right to attend and speak at the National Assemlby. He is voted the Welsh Budget by Parliament and must pass this on to the National Assembly. He must also consult the National Assembly on the Government's legislative program.

There are 40 Parliamentary Constituencies in Wales. Details of the present MPs can be obtained from the UK Parliament web site.

Parliamnetary Constituencies

1. Monmouth
2. Blaenau Gwent
3. Torfaen
4. Newport East
5. Islwyn
6. Newport West
7. Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
8. Caerphilly
9. Cynon Valley
10. Rhondda
11. Pontypridd
12. Vale of Glamorgan
13. Ogmore
14. Bridgend
15. Aberavon
16. Neath
17. Swansea East
18. Swansea West
19. Gower
20. Llanelli

21. Carmarthen East and Dinefwr
22. Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
23. Preseli Pembrokeshire
24. Ceredigion
25. Brecon and Radnor
26. Montgomeryshire
27. Meirionnydd Nant Conwy
28. Clwyd South
29. Caernarfon
30. Ynys Môn
31. Conwy
32. Clwyd West
33. Vale of Clwyd
34. Delyn
35. Alyn and Deeside
36. Wrexham
37. Cardiff North
38. Cardiff West
39. Cardiff Central
40. Cardiff South and Penarth

3. The National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Assembly has the power to develop and implement policy in a range of areas including agriculture, education, health, economic development, the environment, housing, local government, social services, tourism, transport and the Welsh language. The UK Parliament has also delegated to the Assembly the right to make secondary legislation on these issues. This is done through the issuing by the Assembly of Statutory Instruments.

The Assembly is elected via the "additional member" system of proportional representation. There are 40 constituency Assembly Members (AMs). These have exactly the same constituencies as the MPs of Wales. There are a further 20 AMs elected on a regional basis from party lists.

The AMs delegate their executive powers to the First Secretary, who is elected by the whole Assembly. The First Secretary in turn delegates responsibility for delivering the executive functions to a number of Assembly Secretaries. Together they form the Assembly's executive committee, the Assembly Cabinet, which makes many of the Assembly's day to day decisions.

The Assembly's website ( contains a great deal of information about the Assembly and its workings, including lists of its members.

4. Local Government

Under Section 20 of the Local Government Act 1972, "for the administration of local government" there are two types of local government areas in Wales: the "principal areas" and the "communities".

(i) Principal Areas (Unitary Authorities)

There are 22 principal areas. By Section 21 of the LGA 1972 each of the principal areas has a "principal council". The principal councils are responsible for a wide range of service provision within their areas (e.g. education, social services, economic development, highways, housing, planning, street lighting, public health, leisure and amenities and waste management).

Note that the legislation has led to a degree of confusion in two main ways:

(i) Section 21 of the LGA 1972 enables some of the principal councils to adopt the style "county council" and others the style "county borough council". Alternatively all principal councils can be known simply as "council". Hence a diversity of terminology can be encoutered for what are equivalent bodies (e.g. "Caerphilly County Borough Council", "Gwynedd Council" and "Cardiff County Council" all have exactly the same legal status and responsibilities).

(ii) Several of the principal councils were given or have adopted the name of one of the 13 Counties of Wales. The principal areas of "Pembrokeshire", "Carmarthenshire", "Anglesey" and "Ceredigion" are almost exactly identical to the Counties of these names. However, the principal areas presently called "Flintshire" and "Monmouthshire" only cover a part of the Counties of these names. The principal area called "Denbighshire" only covers about half of the County of Denbighshire, but also covers a significant part of the County of Flintshire (including Prestatyn, Rhyl and St. Asaph) and part of Merioneth (including Corwen).

The phrase "unitary authority" is widely used to refer both to the principal areas and to the principal councils (e.g. by the Ordnance Survey, Royal Mail, Office of National Statistics, the Welsh Local Government Association). This makes clear that a single council has responsibility for all those services which, in many areas of England, are split between a "county council" and several "district councils". In the National Gazetteer of Wales we follow this terminology. To ease confusion as far as possible we also refer to each principal council by the simplest title which is allowed by the legislation: that of the principal area name followed by "council".

Wales Unitary Authorities

Unitary Authorities of Wales- Links

Welsh Local Government Association
Blaenau Gwent Council
Bridgend Council
Cardiff Council
Carmarthenshire Council
Caerphilly Council
Ceredigion Council
Conwy Council
Denbighshire Council
Flintshire Council
Gwynedd Council
Isle of Anglesey Council
Merthyr Tydfil Council
Monmouthshire Council
Neath Port Talbot Council
Newport Council
Pembrokeshire Council
Powys Council
Rhondda Cynon Taff Council
Swansea Council
Torfaen Council
Vale of Glamorgan Council
Wrexham Council

(ii)The Communities

There are about 900 "communities" in Wales. These are the equivalent of the civil parishes of England. Whilst only non-urban parts of England have civil parishes, the whole of Wales lies within one community or another.

Most communities have an elected "community council", although some communities, particularly in the larger urban areas of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea do not. Community councils are allowed, should they wish, to style themslves "town councils". In such councils the council leader is known as the "mayor". The community councils are allowed by law to pursue a wide range of activites. Typically these include the provision of shelters, benches and public seats, camping sites, town or public clocks, village halls, public conveniences, war memorials and the use of some public spaces. They also have a right to be consulted on many planning issues which will affect their area.

A meeting of the local government electors (a "community meeting") may be convened in any community for the purpose of discussing community affairs. If the community does not have an existing community council, then the community meeting may apply to the principal council within whose area it lies to establish a community council. Alternatively, if the community does have an existing community council, then the community meeting can apply to the principal council to have the community council dissolved. The community meeting can also apply to the principal council for an order to include its community under a joint community council covering a group of neighbouring communities. However, a poll of local government electors must support any such proposals.

5. The Police Service

The Home Secretary has overall responsible for the organisation, administration and operation of the police service in Wales. The Police Act 1996 divides England and Wales into "police areas", each of which has both a "police force" and a "police authority". Police authorities are responsible for maintaining an effective and efficient police force in their areas. The police authorities of Wales are comprised of local councillors, magistrates and independent members.

There are 4 police areas in Wales.

Wales Police Areas

Police - Links

The Police Services of the UK
Dyfed-Powys Police
Gwent Police
North Wales Police
South Wales Police

6. The Fire Service

The Home Secretary has overall responsible for the fire service in Wales. Under the Fire Services Act 1947, Great Britain is divided into "areas" for the purposes of the fire service. Each area has a "fire authority" responsible for the provision of the fire service in its area. The members of the fire authorities are drawn from local government.

There are three fire authorities in Wales.

Wales Fire Authorities

Fire Authorities - Links

Mid and West Wales Fire Authority
North Wales Fire Authority
South Wales Fire Authority

7. The National Health Service

The National Health Service Act 1997 places a duty on the National Assembly for Wales to establish "Health Authorities" in Wales. The Health Authorities are responsible for the provision of health care services in their areas. They are also responsible for assessing the health care needs of the local population and developing integrated strategies for meeting these needs in partnership with the GPs and in consultation with the public, hospitals and others. Further information can be obtained from the NHS Cymru Wales website.

There are 5 Health Authorities in Wales.

Wales Health Authorities

Health Authority - Links

Dyfed Powys Health Authority
Bro Taf Health Authority
Gwent Health Authority
Iechyd Morgannwg Health Authority
North Wales Health Authority

8. The Preserved Counties

Section 20(8) and Schedule II of the Local Government Act 1972 define a set of areas to be known as "preserved counties". These are, with slight amendments, the areas of the 8 local government "counties" of the LGA 1972 as first passed (i.e. Clwyd, Dyfed, Mid Glamorgan, South Glamorgan, Gwynedd, Powys, West Glamorgan, Gwent).

The preserved counties are utilised for several administrative purposes. The parliamentary and assembly constituencies are divisions of them. The areas of the the commission of the peace, the shrievalty and the lieutenancies are also based upon them.

preserved counties of wales

9. The Criminal and Civil Law

The organisation of the courts system in Wales and the control of appointments to the judiciary are the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Detailed information can be found on the Courts Service web site.

All criminal cases are commenced in a magistrates' court. 96% of criminal cases are resolved in a magistrates' court, the remainder are sent by the magistrates to the Crown Court to be dealt with.

The appointment of magistrates (also known as "justices of the peace") and the areas of the magistrates' courts are governed by the Justices of the Peace Act 1979. This Act divides England and Wales into "commission areas" within each of which there is a "commission of the peace" (the commission of the peace is the authority under which justices of the peace exercise their jurisdiction). The commission areas within Wales are deemed by the Act to be the preserved counties. The Lord Chancellor appoints justices of the peace to each commission area. Justices of the Peace are generally unpaid lay volunteers.

The commission areas are sub-divided into "petty sessions areas", each of which has one or more magistrates' courts. Each petty sessions area has a professional Clerk to the Justices, a solictor or barrister, whose duties are to adminster the courts as a whole and to advise magistrates on law and procedure. The magistrates' tasks are to determine guilt or innocence and to impose a suitable sentence. In addition to criminal law, magistrates have some civil jusisdiction, including family law, care proceedings, the licensing of public houses, off licenses and betting and gaming establishments.

The following lists each commission area of Wales along with the the petty sessions areas into which it is divided:
Clwyd:     Colwyn, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham Maelor
Dyfed:     Carmarthen, Ceredigion, Dinefwr, Llanelli, North Pembrokeshire, South Pembrokehsire
Gwent:     Bedwellty, East Gwent, Lower Rhymney Valley, Newport, Upper Rhymney Valley
Gwynedd:     Aberconwy, Arfon, Dwyfor, Meirionnydd, Ynys Môn/Anglesey
Mid Glamorgan:     Cynon Valley, Merthyr Tydfil, Miskin
Powys:     De Brycheiniog, De Maldwyn, Radnorshire and North Brecknock, Welshpool
South Glamorgan:     Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
West Glamorgan:     Neath Port Talbot, Newcastle and Ogmore, Swansea County

More serious criminal cases are heard at the Crown Court. The Crown Court system in England and Wales is organised into six "circuits". The whole of Wales falls within the Wales and Chester Circuit. Within the Wales and Chester circuit, there are 13 Crown Court centres at which criminal trials take place (Caernarfon, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Chester, Dolgellau, Haverfordwest, Knutsford, Merthyr Tydfil, Mold, Newport, Swansea, Welshpool, Warrington).

Civil justice in Wales is based at three major civil justice centres at Cardiff, Swansea and Chester. Smaller civil cases are dealt with by the County Courts. The County Courts are arranged into "districts". There are 32 County Courts districts in the Wales and Chester circuit: Aberdare, Blackwood, Brecknock, Bridgend, Caernarfon, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Chepstow, Chester, Conwy and Colwyn, Crewe, Haverfordwest, Holywell, Llanelli, Llangefni, Macclesfield, Merthyr Tydfil, Mold, Monmouth, Neath and Port Talbot, Newport (Mons), Northwich, Pontypool, Pontypridd, Rhyl, Runcorn, Swansea, Warrington, Welshpool and Newtown, and Wrexham. Addresses can be found at the Wales and Chester Circuit Office website.

10. The Registration Service

For the purpose of the registration of births, deaths and marriages, England and Wales is divided into "registration districts". A "superintendent registrar" has overall responsibility for each registration district.

Under the Local Government Act 1972 the registration districts of Wales are sub-divisions of the local government principal areas (note, however, that the registration service is not a responsibilty of the unitary authorities).

The following list notes the names of the registration districts within each principal area.

Blaenau Gwent:     Blaenau Gwent
Bridgend:     Bridgend
Conwy:     Aberconwy, Colwyn
Caerphilly:     Caerphilly
Cardiff:     Cardiff
Carmarthenshire:     Carmarthen, Llanelli
Ceredigion:     Cardiganshire Central, Cardiganshire North, Cardiganshire South
Denbighsire:     Denbighshire East, Denbighshire West
Flintshire:     Flintshire East, Flintshire West
Gwynedd:     Ardudwy, Bangor, Caernarfon, De Meirionnydd, Penllyn, Pwllheli and Porthmadog, Tywyn
Isle of Anglesey:     Anglesey
Merthyr Tydfil:     Merthyr Tydfil
Monmouthshire:     Monmouth
Neath Port Talbot:     Neath and Port Talbot
Newport:     Newport
Pembrokeshire:     Haverfordwest, South Pembrokeshire
Powys:     Brecknock, Hay, Machynlleth, Mid Powys, Newtown, Radnorshire East, Welshpool and Llanfylin, Ystradgynlais
Rhondda Cynon Taff:     Pontypridd
Swansea:     Swansea
Torfaen:     Torfaen
Vale of Glamorgan:     The Vale of Glamorgan
Wrexham:     Wrexham

The address of the central register office for each of these registration districts can be obtained from GENUKI's English and Welsh Register Offices pages.

11. The Lieutenancies

A lord-lieutenant is the head of the reserve forces in his area and also has various ceremonial duties. Under the Lieutenancies Act 1997 England and Wales is divided into "counties for the purposes of the lieutenancies". In Wales these "counties" are deemed to be the preserved counties of the LGA 1972.

12. The Shrievalty

The ancient office of sheriff still carries with it several duties including being the returning officer for elections in parliamentary constituences in his area and the enforcement of writs. For practical purposes the sheriff appoints one or more under-sheriffs to perform his duties. The functions and areas of the Shrievalty are dealt with by the Sheriffs Act 1887. Under this Act the "counties for the purposes of the sheriffs of England and Wales" are the same as those identifed in the Lieutenancies Act 1997. Hence, in Wales, the sheriffs are appointed to the areas of the preserved counties.

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