It’s Official – There is no definition of an English Town!

I am writing in response to your e-mail of 9 April asking for a complete list of towns in England – including those without a Town Council – and the criterion and date by which each became a town.

Your request has been considered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act).

I regret to have to advise you that I have established that the information you requested is not held by the Department for Communities and Local government (DCLG). Indeed I think I can confirm that, as far as I am aware, there is no Government list of towns in England and no centrally held record of when they became towns. Indeed, since there is no legal definition of what constitutes a town – places/villages just start to be called towns as they get bigger – this would be difficult in any event.

ONS do not hold data for towns as they are not classed as administrative unit except where they have a town council (see below). However there are various reports produced by the Office of National Statistics which provide some information. Because “places” are a moving geography ONS developed “Super output areas” to use for the production of statistics. Often too statistics are based on rural and non rural areas sometimes over certain population thresholds – you could argue non rural areas are towns? See

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/census-2001-key-statistics/urban-areas-in-england-and-wales/index.html

Urban areas:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/urbansettlement2001

If you meant parishes that have resolved to call themselves a town (as they can under Section 245(6) of the Local Government Act 1972) there is no list as far as I am aware and so no central record of when the parishes may have decided to call themselves a town……… However we do publish a Bulletin of change to local authority’s arrangements based on what we are told –

http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/local/governanceelections/centralgovernment/
These Bulletins include resolutions of parishes to call themselves a town – but I cannot guarantee that all parishes inform us of this change. And some parishes might have been towns prior to 1972. Also many urban areas (towns) are not parished.

Civil parishes have existed since 1894 (before that they existed mainly as ecclesiastical bodies). Parishes vary enormously in size from areas with about 100 electors to large towns with 70,000 electors which are on a par with some small districts. Following the Local Government Act 1972, many small towns which had previously formed Municipal boroughs or urban districts became “successor parishes” within larger district areas. Many of these parishes were in town areas and had the right to call themselves town councils.

Lists of parishes and principal local authorities in England can be found at:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/geography/products/names–codes-and-look-ups/names-and-codes-listings/names-and-codes-for-administrative-geography/index.html

Every district council will have a list of the parishes/parish contacts in their area and may be able to tell you whether they are classed as towns or not.

There are statistics which give details of “local precepting authorities” – basically parishes with a council. See
http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/corporate/statistics/parishes201112

Department for Communities and Local Government

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9 April 2012
Dear Sirs,
Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, please supply me a complete list of towns in England including those without a Town Council – and the criterion and date by which each became a town. This information does not appear to be in the public domain, which is absurd for basic information about the country’s governance.


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