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A parish council is a type of local authority found in England which is the lowest, or first, tier of local government.[1] A parish council can decide by resolution to be known as a town council, village council, neighbourhood council or community council. They are elected bodies and have variable tax raising powers. Parish councils are responsible for areas known as civil parishes; although not every civil parish has a council. They cover only part of England; corresponding to 35% of the population.[2] There are currently no parish councils in Greater London and before 2007 their creation was not permitted within a London borough. Many parish councils originate from the Local Government Act 1894, which established them in rural areas; a further tranche were introduced in 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972 in successor parishes; and since the Local Government and Rating Act 1997 further parish councils have been created at an increased rate. There are approximately 8,500 councils in England and the National Association of Local Councils exists to provide support and lobby services.[2] The powers of parish councils are fairly limited and in areas where they do not exist, they are exercised by district councils.



Parish councils were formed in England under the Local Government Act 1894 to take over local oversight of civic duties in rural towns and villages. Before this date a variety of groups based around ecclesiastical parishes had responsibility for these matters, in a system of local government that originated in the feudal system of the 8th century. Their areas of responsibility were known as civil parishes and they were grouped together to form rural districts. Civil parishes existed in urban districts, but did not have parish councils. Following the Local Government Act 1972, many small towns which had previously formed municipal boroughs or urban districts became "successor parishes" within larger districts. A policy known as Local Area Management has caused an increase in the number of parish councils, especially in large towns and cities which do not have a history of parish governance. Not every civil parish has a parish council; smaller ones—typically with an electorate under 200—only instead have parish meetings. Alternatively, a parish with a small electorate may share a council with one or more neighbouring parishes. Since the Local Government and Rating Act 1997, it is possible to create a parish council for a new civil parish by local petition[1] and since 2007, parish councils have been permitted within London boroughs.

Powers and duties

Parish councils have the power to precept (tax) their residents to support their operations and to carry out local projects. Although there is no limit to the amount that can be precepted, the money can only be raised for a limited number of purposes, defined in the 1894 Act and subsequent legislation.


Powers to provide facilities

Parish councils have powers to provide some facilities themselves, or they can contribute towards their provision by others. There are large variations in the services provided by parishes, but they can include the following:[3]

  • Allotments
  • Support and encouragement of arts and crafts
  • Provision of village halls
  • Recreation grounds, parks, children's play areas, playing fields and swimming baths
  • Cemeteries and crematoria
  • Maintenance of closed churchyards
  • Cleaning and drainage of ponds etc.
  • Control of litter
  • Public conveniences
  • Creation and maintenance of footpaths
  • Provision of cycle and motorcycle parking
  • Acquisition and maintenance of rights of way
  • Public clocks
  • War memorials
  • Encouragement of tourism

They may also provide the following subject to the consent of the county council or unitary authority of the area in which they lie:[3]

  • Bus shelters
  • Signposting of footpaths
  • Lighting of footpaths
  • Off-street car parks
  • Provision, maintenance and protection of roadside verges

Representative powers

Parish councils must be notified by the district or county council of:[3]

  • All planning applications in their areas
  • Intention to make byelaws in relation to hackney carriages, music and dancing, promenades, sea shore and street naming.
  • Intention to provide a burial ground in the parish
  • Proposals to carry out sewerage works
  • Footpath surveys

Miscellaneous powers

In some cases parish councils possess the following powers:[3]

  • Withholding of consent to stop up unclassified highways and footpaths
  • Consultation on appointment of managers of primary schools
  • Trustees or appointing trustees of local charities

Alternative styles

At the same time as the creation of successor parishes, the law was changed so that any parish council could pass a resolution to declare its area a "town", with the council known as a "town council". The majority of successor parishes, and a number of other small market towns now have town councils, whose powers are exactly the same as those of parish councils, although their chairmen are entitled to style themselves as "town mayor."[3] A handful of parishes have been granted city status by letters patent: the council of such a parish is known as "city council" and the chairman is entitled to be known as the "city mayor".[3] Since 2007, and following the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, a parish council has also been able to alternatively style itself as a "village council", "neighbourhood council" or "community council".

See also


  1. ^ a b "What is a town, parish or community council?". National Association of Local Councils.  
  2. ^ a b "About NALC". National Association of Local Councils.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f Local government in England and Wales: A Guide to the New System. London: HMSO. 1974. pp. 12–13, 157–158. ISBN 0117508470.  


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