Avon shown within England
|1974 area||332,596 acres (1,345.97 km2)|
|1994 area||134,268 hectares (1,342.68 km2)|
|Origin||Bristol travel-to-work area|
Bath and North East Somerset
|Governance||Avon County Council|
Coat of arms of Avon County Council
Avon (pronounced /ˈeɪvən/ or /ˈævən/) was, from 1974 to 1996, a non-metropolitan and ceremonial county in the west of England. The county was named after the River Avon, which runs through the area. In 1996, the county was abolished and the area split between the Bath and North East Somerset, City of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire unitary local authorities. The Avon name is still used for some purposes and the area has a population of approximately one million people.
The important port of Bristol lay close to the mouth of the River Avon which defined the historic boundary between Gloucestershire and Somerset. In 1373 a charter constituted the area as the County of the Town of Bristol, although it continued to fall within the jurisdiction of the two counties for some purposes.
The appointment of a boundaries commission in 1887 led to a campaign for the creation of a county of Greater Bristol. The commissioners, while recommending that Bristol should be "neither in the county of Gloucester nor of Somerset for any purpose whatsoever", did not extend the city's boundaries. The commission's timidity was attacked by the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, who accused them of using the "crude method of the Procrustean bed". The newspaper went on to attack Charles Ritchie, the President of the Local Government Board and the Conservative government:
Everyone who considered the question on its merits was convinced of the justice of the demand for a Greater Bristol, but... the interests of the Tory party were put before every other consideration and we do not think there is any endeavour to conceal the fact.
Under the Local Government Act 1888 Bristol was constituted a county borough, exercising the powers of both a county and city council. The city was extended to take in some Gloucestershire suburbs in 1898 and 1904.
The next proposals for local government reform in the area were made in 1968, when the Redcliffe-Maud Commission made its report. The commission recommended dividing England into unitary areas. One of these was a new Bristol and Bath Area which would have included a wide swathe of countryside surrounding the two cities, extending into Wiltshire and as far as Frome in Somerset. Following a change of government at the 1970 general election, a two-tier system of counties and districts was proposed instead of unitary authorities. In a white paper published in 1971 one of these counties "Area 26" or "Bristol County", was based on the commission's Bristol and Bath area, but lacked the areas of Wiltshire. The proposals were opposed by Somerset County Council, and this led to the setting up of a "Save Our Somerset" campaign.
By the time the Local Government Bill was introduced to parliament, the county had been named "Avon". The boundaries of the new county were cut back during the passage of Local Government Bill through parliament. The Local Government Act 1972 received the royal assent on 26 October 1972.
The county came into formal existence on 1 April 1974 when the Local Government Act 1972 came into effect. The new county consisted of the areas of:
The county was divided into six districts. Bristol and Bath had identical boundaries to the former county boroughs. In the north the urban districts of Kingswood and Mangotsfield formed a single District of Kingswood, with the rest of the areas transferred from Gloucestershire becoming Northavon. In the south, there were two districts, Woodspring, on the coast, and Wansdyke, in the interior.
The area of Avon was 1,347 square kilometres (520 sq mi) and its population in 1991 was 919,800. Cities and towns in Avon included (in approximate order of population) Bristol, Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Yate, Clevedon, Portishead, Midsomer Norton & Radstock, Bradley Stoke, Nailsea, Yatton, Keynsham and Thornbury.
Avon was one of the counties in the "first tranche" of reviews conducted by the Banham Commission in the 1990s. The Commission recommended that it and its districts be abolished and replaced with four unitary authorities. The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995 was debated in the House of Commons on 22 February 1995. The Order came into effect on 1 April 1996. The four authorities that replaced Avon are:
For ceremonial purposes, the post of Lord Lieutenant of Avon was abolished and Bristol regained its own Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff, while the other authorities were returned to their traditional counties. Suggestions to alter Bristol's boundaries (either by drawing new boundaries or by merely incorporating the mostly urbanised borough of Kingswood into it) were rejected.
The demise of the County of Avon was the focus of a BBC documentary called The End of Avon, produced by Linda Orr and Michael Lund and broadcast in 1996. In 2006, the BBC Somerset presenter Adam Thomas, in a BBC One regional programme Inside Out West, investigated why Avon refuses to die. The county continues to be included in the databases of large corporations as part of addresses in the area, and in names of some private organisations such as the Avon Wildlife Trust. However, the Royal Mail indicated that it was not necessary to include Avon as part of any address as it had abandoned the use of postal counties in 1996.
Some public bodies still cover the area of the former county of Avon: for example, Avon Fire and Rescue Service, the Avon Coroner's District, the West of England Strategic Partnership, Intelligence West, and until 2006 the Avon Ambulance Service (now merged with the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire ambulance services to form the Great Western Ambulance Service). The former county and its southern neighbour form the area covered by Avon and Somerset Constabulary. Though there is no longer a single council, the four unitary authorities still cooperate on many aspects of policy, such as the Joint Local Transport Plan. Currently, the term "West of England" is used by some organisations to refer to the former Avon area.
The term CUBA, the "County (or Councils) that Used to Be Avon", was coined to refer to the Avon area post-abolition of the county. The term Severnside is sometimes used as a substitute for "Avon", although the term can also be used to refer to the stretch of shoreline from Avonmouth north to Aust, or from Newport to Chepstow. "Greater Bristol" is also used.
The Forest of Avon is a community forest covering part of the area of the four local authorities. Other relics of Avon's existence include the Avon Cycleway (first designed and promoted by Cyclebag), an 85-mile (137 km) circular route on quiet roads and cycle paths, which was a precursor of the National Cycle Network. Also, Avon County Council helped fund Sustrans' first cycleway, the Bristol & Bath Railway Path.