Association of British Counties
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The Association of British Counties (ABC) is a non-party-political society formed in 1989 by television personality Russell Grant to promote the historic counties of the United Kingdom. It argues that the historic counties are an important part of Britain's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved and promoted. It also proposes that there be a clear official distinction between the historic counties and the administrative units known as counties—first described as a separate entity in the Local Government Act 1888.
Definitions and county boundaries recognised by the Association
The ABC recognises ninety-two historic counties of the United Kingdom; and provides a gazetteer of British place names to enable their identification. The gazetteer identifies the corresponding historic county with respect to the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, in addition to cross-referencing other administrative areas.
The Association does not believe that counties corporate enjoy county status "in the ordinary sense of the term" and includes them within the historic county or counties in which they lie geographically.
The association declares that the "most authoritative definition of the boundaries of the Counties of Great Britain is that obtained by the Ordnance Survey during its first national survey of Great Britain".
Areas transferred from one county to another by the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 are "considered to be associated with both their parent County (from which they are detached) and the County in which they locally lie."
Aims and objectives
The ABC has declared that it does not want further local government reorganisation. Instead it would rather see an official distinction made between current administrative units known as counties, and those areas known as counties before the local government reforms of 1965 and 1974, which were not abolished.
It seeks to bring about an official change in government terminology to bring it in line with its interpretation of the Local Government Act 1888—the original piece of legislation which created the county councils in England and Wales, though there have since been several further changes. The Act specifically called the areas it created "administrative counties" (although it also amended what it called the "counties"), and the ABC wishes to see this terminology consistently used to describe them. Also it wishes to see the term "county" stripped from the unitary authorities that use it, a measure which it claims will remove what it sees as confusion resulted from the status of various entities termed counties since 1888. In particular, ABC uses scare quotes around the word "county" when not referring to the counties as defined by them.
Other policies include:
- compelling the Ordnance Survey to mark the historic county borders on their maps
- lobbying for the erection of boundary signs at these boundaries
- making the ceremonial counties match the boundaries of the historic counties they promote
- that the English regions should be redefined in order to ensure that the counties as they describe them should "be brought wholly within one region or another"
The ABC was founded in 1989, holding its inaugural conference on 1 April in historic Monmouthshire. This was at the beginning of a period of review of local government areas: in March 1989 the Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley had ordered an urgent review of the future of Humberside. Later in April the MP Nicholas Bennett unsuccessfully introduced a bill into the Commons to introduce a system of unitary authorities in Wales based on historic counties. Following the establishment of the Local Government Commission for England in 1992, the ABC became active in the review process, advocating the restoration of historic county boundaries. The LGCE's review resulted in the restoration of Herefordshire and Rutland to local government and ceremonial status, and the abolition of the unpopular counties of Avon, Cleveland and Humberside. Attempts to resurrect Cumberland and Westmorland failed to gain the support of either the LGCE or the public. The creation of a Huntingdonshire unitary authority was also eventually rejected in spite of strong support locally.
In 2007 it was announced that a number of unitary authorities would be formed in 2009. Among the councils that were to gain unitary status were the county councils of Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire, which were to absorb all of the district councils in each county. The ABC launched a campaign in November 2007 for the new unitary councils to be renamed to reflect what they asserted to be "real counties":
- They suggested that the new authority for County Durham should be named either "Central Durham and Teesdale" or "Mid Durham and Teesdale". The leader of Durham County Council rejected this suggestion, noting that residents of the area were proud of their county name, and that the "only redeeming feature is that it would give us one of the longest council names in the country". "Given our proud heritage and all that our area has to offer, I would hope that our county would be known for much more than that." Another member of the council suggested that if these "unelected people...want to change the name, then they should pay for it", a cost he estimated at £4 million.
- The group suggested naming the new authority for Northumberland "Northumberland Heartlands Council", "North and West Northumberland Council", "Rural Northumberland Council" or "Northumberland Moors and Coast Council". However, when the people of the county were asked to choose whether they wanted the name of the council to remain as 'Northumberland County Council' or to change to 'Northumberland Council' the outcome was to retain the old county council name.
- Suggested renamings of Shropshire Council were "Shropshire Heartlands Council", "Heart of Shropshire Council" and "Shrewsbury and Rural Shropshire Council".
- ABC suggest naming the new authority for Wiltshire "Heart of Wiltshire Council", "Wiltshire Heartlands Council", "Wiltshire Plains and Downs Council" or "Salisbury and Rural Wiltshire Council". However, the name "Wiltshire Council" had already been chosen in September 2007.
Addresses and signage
Successes for the "traditional counties movement" include:
- Successfully lobbying the Royal Mail to have historic, in addition to administrative and former postal, counties included in the Postcode Address File's Alias record, which is used to "find the correct postal addresses from ‘postally-not-required’ data".
- The erection of signs marking the historic boundary between Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire on the A59.
- The erection of signs by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council marking the historic boundary between Cheshire and Lancashire.
- The erection of signs by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and Saddleworth Parish Council marking the historic boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Party political support
None of the three main political parties has a direct commitment to support the group or adopt the ABC's cause.
UKIP has said it would "dismantle regional government and return powers to traditional county and borough councils" in its local-issues manifesto.
The English Democrats statement of principles states "We favour recognition for traditional counties, which would include the reunification of Yorkshire".
Some MPs overtly support recognition of the historic counties - notably the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, who was quoted on the departmental website as saying: "The historic English counties are one of the oldest forms of local government in Western Europe. Their roots run deep. And no amount of administrative reshuffling can delete these longstanding and cherished local identities."
A Private Members Bill, the Historic Counties (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill, was twice introduced into the 2001–05 Parliament, first by John Randall (Conservative, Uxbridge) in 2003, and again in 2004 by Adrian Flook (Conservative, Taunton), who "[paid] tribute to the Association of British Counties for trailblazing the campaign". The Bill did not proceed to second reading in either year.
Another Private Members Bill, the Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill, was introduced to Parliament on 31 January 2007 by Andrew Rosindell (Conservative, Romford) under the Ten Minute Rule. It was ordered to be brought in by a group of 12 MPs. Mr Rosindell "[thanks] the Association of British Counties, a society dedicated to promoting awareness of the 86 historic counties of Great Britain, which has campaigned tirelessly for their recognition through proper signage denoting historic county boundaries". The Bill did not proceed beyond second reading but was supported by the Conservative opposition. It was opposed by the government.
John Butcher, Conservative MP for Coventry South West until 1997, was an active member of the group, campaigning in Parliament during the 1990s UK local government reform. In 1991, he suggested to the Secretary of State for Wales the use of the traditional county names Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Monmouthshire for unitary authorities in Wales In a 1996 debate, declaring he was honorary president of the ABC, he noted his approval of the abolition of the postal counties, meaning that "people who live in places like "Birmingham, Walsall and Coventry can now use in their addresses the ancient pre-1974 counties".
The following statements have been made regarding the status of the historic counties (though they are not Government policy statements):
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, who was quoted on the departmental website as saying:
The historic English counties are one of the oldest forms of local government in Western Europe. Their roots run deep. And no amount of administrative reshuffling can delete these longstanding and cherished local identities.
Quoted in The Times of 1 April 1974:
According to a Department of the Environment official, the new county boundaries are solely for the purpose of defining areas of first-level government of the future: "They are administrative areas and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change." Citing Middlesex as an example, he said that although that county had been swallowed up in Greater London in 1965 and disappeared for governmental purposes, the name still exists for postal and other reasons. "Similarly the broad acres known as Yorkshire will remain unaltered despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties."
local government boundaries are concerned essentially with administration, and changes, whether arising from the 1974 reorganisation or as part of the current review, need not affect ancient loyalties and affinities. I need hardly name some of these. Lancashire County Cricket Club was mentioned, and continues to have Old Trafford as its main ground and headquarters, and has managed to do quite well on it in the last season, despite being within Greater Manchester.
When the ABC first emerged it was stated to have been "formed by about 30 county groups". Among those listed at the time were the Friends of Real Lancashire, the Voice of Rutland, the Back to Somerset Campaign and the County of Middlesex Trust. Of these only the first now appears to be active.
According to their websites, the following groups are affiliated as of September 2012:
- The Caernarfonshire Association
- Friends of Real Lancashire
- The Huntingdonshire Society
- The Monmouthshire Association
- The Sussex Association
- The Warwickshire Association
- Yorkshire Ridings Society and their local group the Saddleworth White Rose Society
The direct action group CountyWatch shares some of the aims of the ABC, but has no connection with the Association.
- The Counties - quarterly to members
- The Gazetteer of British Place Names
- Be Properly Addressed: A Traditional County Postal Directory
- Numerous consultation responses
- "By George! England's traditional counties can return to England's roads - GOV.UK".
- Local Government Act 1888, Part V, Section 100
- "Gazetteer of British Place Names ~ The Association of British Counties".
- www.abcounties.com. "FAQ - Search Results - County-Wise".
- Association of British Counties - Aims and Objectives[dead link]
- www.abcounties.com (26 August 2012). "Does ABC seek further local government reorganisation ?".
- www.abcounties.com (23 October 2016). "Definition of the Counties".
- Local Government Act 1888
- Diary, The Times, 28 March 1989, p.16
- County review ordered, The Times, March 18, 1989
- Diary, The Times, April 11, 1989
- Welsh councils Bill rejected: Parliament The Times, 13 April 1989
- LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Leicestershire. December 1994.
- LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Hereford and Worcester. December 1994.
- LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset. December 1993
- LGCE. Final recommendations on the future local government of Cleveland and Durham. November 1993
- LGCE. Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire. January 1994.
- Final Recommendations for the Future Local Government of Cumbria. October 1994.
- LGCE. Final Recommendations on the Future Local Government of: Basildon & Thurrock, Blackburn & Blackpool, Broxtowe, Gedling & Rushcliffe, Dartford & Gravesham, Gillingham & Rochester Upon Medway, Exeter, Gloucester, Halton & Warrington, Huntingdonshire & Peterborough, Northampton, Norwich, Spelthorne and the Wrekin. December 1995.
- The Future Local Government of Cambridgeshire (LGC, June 1994), p10: "Options which included a unitary Huntingdonshire authority were supported by 57 per cent of respondents, or 63 per cent if those submissions not expressing a structural preference are excluded. By contrast, only 24 percent of respondents in the district supported the retention of the two tier system."
- Green light for five flagship Unitary Councils, Communities and Local Government, accessed December 16, 2007 Archived January 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- "Group demands county name switch". BBC. 7 Nov 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-17. Cite journal requires
- Northumberland Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007[permanent dead link]
- Shropshire Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007[permanent dead link]
- Wiltshire Unitary Council - call for new name ABC, accessed December 16, 2007[permanent dead link]
- "BBC NEWS - UK - England - Wear - Group demands county name switch".
- "Group calls for dale to be included in county name".
- "Northumberland County Council - Home" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-16. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
- Frequently asked questions on One Council for Shropshire, Shropshire County Council, accessed 16 December 2007 Archived 13 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- "Go ahead given for new council's names and dates, Wiltshire County Council, accessed 16 December 2007".
- Royal Mail - Alias Data[permanent dead link]. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
- "...::: The Friends of Real lancashire Control Panel :::..."
- The Counties, ABC newsletter, Spring 2009
- UKIP Local Issues Manifesto Archived 2006-05-25 at the Wayback Machine
- English Democrats Party — Principles Archived 2006-09-29 at the Wayback Machine
- "Warwickshire flag to fly at Department for Communities and Local Government". Department for Communities and Local Government. 11 July 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 20 October 2004. col. 895.
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 31 January 2007. col. 236.
- Westminster, Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 29 Jun 2007 (pt 0003)".
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|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 17 June 1991. col. 30.
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 4 July 1996. col. 1073.
- White Rose ties hold fast despite amputation and shake-up of boundaries, by Raymond Gledhill, The Times, April 1, 1974
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 4 December 1995. col. 119–120.. Retrieved 19 October 2006.
- Battle to revive Rutland joined by lobbyists, The Times, July 20, 1991
- "The Caernarfonshire Association". caernarfonshire.org.
- "Huntingdonshire Society home page". abcounties.com.
- The Monmouthshire Association
- The Sussex Association Archived 2011-06-10 at the Wayback Machine
- The Warwickshire Association
- "The Yorkshire Ridings Society".
- Orange, Infinate. "Middlesex Federation - Middlesex Federation". Middlesex Federation.
- "Gazetteer of British Place Names ~ The Association of British Counties".
- Association of British Counties - official website