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Proposal for new documentation of tagging for UK boundaries - primarily administrative.

UK Admin Boundaries

General Notes

Each administrative area should be represented in OSM by a relation of type=boundary. The members of the relation are mostly ways which, when organised as a multipolygon, represent the border of the area.

Additional Members

In addition to the way members for the boundary itself, each boundary relation may optionally contain additional members with specific roles:

  • admin_centre: a node representing the place where the council has its principal offices
  • label: a node representing the suggested location and text for a label, instead of the centroid of the area and the name of the relation
  • subarea: other boundary relations, representing constituent parts of this administrative area; counties can have districts as subareas, districts can have parishes, etc. Note that ceremonial boundaries do not take part in this parent-child hierarchy.

Government Reference Codes

In England, Wales and Scotland, each outer polygon has a code, issued by the Government Statistical Service (GSS). In the majority of cases, this can be seen as an identifier of the local government unit. There are however some special cases to bear in mind:

  • an exclave of a parish may have its own code
  • "Lands common" areas have their own code
  • when a boundary is changed, a new code is issued

The codes are tagged in ref:gss=* and look like "E07000001".

Note that the codes issued by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) are deprecated and should no longer be used. These codes look like "00AA" or "01AA123"

More information on these coding systems can be found on wikipedia:ONS coding system.

United Kingdom

The full title is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is a subset of the United Kingdom and consists of England, Scotland and Wales.

Local Authority Boundaries

Local authority jurisdiction extends at the coast to Mean Low Water. Certain statutory exceptions have been made to this, extending LA jurisdiction to cover significant areas of sea. Notable examples of these Seaward Extensions include Torbay (the boundary cuts straight across the bay), Brighton Marina (the boundary is at some distance from the marina walls) and Bristol (the area extends part-way across the Severn estuary to some islands).

Government Regions

Although they no longer have any administrative role, the Regions are still used for certain other purposes including EU elections. There are now 9 regions defined in England.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 5
name = South East

Statistical Regions

All European countries are divided into a hierarchy of regions for statistical purposes. Normally the boundaries will follow LA boundaries. More information can be found here: wikipedia:NUTS of the United Kingdom

Territorial Waters

Territorial waters beyond LA jurisdiction were controlled by the United Kingdom up to 12nm or more from the coastal baseline. Until recently there has never been much need to distinguish between the territorial waters of the constituent nations. However, devolution of responsibilities and powers to national governments has made it essential, so there are now statutory boundaries between the waters of the nations. In the Severn estuary there is an interesting anomaly where the Seaward Extension of the City of Bristol crosses the line between English and Welsh territorial waters, meaning that a part of Bristol can be said to be in Wales.


Civil Parish

  • Governed by a Parish Council or a Parish Meeting for smaller parishes – see parish_type tag.
  • All parishes must hold an annual parish meeting.
  • Council can optionally be styled as Community Council, Town Council, Village Council or Neighbourhood Council, at their own discretion.
  • Council can be styled City Council, but only by Royal Decree.
  • Can share a joint Parish Council with adjoining parishes.
  • May have exclaves known as a "detached" part
  • May share land with adjoining parish – "Lands Common"

"Lands common to parishes" (LCPs) have their own boundary relation, tagged as parish_type=lands_common, with an admin_centre member for each parish sharing the jurisdiction. There will be no council_style or council_name on the LCP as they have no council.

Exclaves are simply additional "outer" rings in the boundary relation of the main area to which they belong.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 10
designation = civil_parish
name = Bloggsville
long_name = Bloggsville Civil Parish
parish_type = parish_meeting | parish_council | joint_parish_council | lands_common
council_style = parish | town | city | village | neighbourhood | community
council_name = Bloggsville Parish Council


  • A Metropolitan District is part of a Metropolitan County. The counties themselves have no council these days.
  • A Non-Metropolitan District is part of a Non-Metropolitan County.
  • Districts may be awarded Borough status.
  • District Councils may be styled as City or County.
type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 8
designation = non_metropolitan_district | metropolitan_district
name = Bloggsville
long_name = Bloggsville District
council_style = district | city | county
council_name = Bloggsville District Council
borough = yes | no

Unitary Authority

  • May be awarded Borough status
  • May be styled as City or County
type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
designation = unitary_authority
name = Bloggsville
long_name = Bloggsville District
council_style = (nothing) | city | county
council_name = Bloggsville Council
borough = yes | no

Rutland is a technically a District, which is styled as a County, so it is effectively a Unitary Authority.


  • The six Metropolitan Counties no longer have a council, although a limited number of functions are carried out through Joint Boards. Therefore they should be tagged as ceremonial rather than administrative.
  • Most Non-Metropolitan Counties have a County Council (see below for the exception).
type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
designation = non_metropolitan_county
name = Bloggsshire
long_name = County of Bloggsshire
council_name = Bloggsville County Council

Berkshire (a Non-Metropolitan County) has no council. It consists solely of Unitary Authorities.

Greater London

The GLA is the higher level LA for Greater London, including the City of London and the 32 London Boroughs.

There is also a Ceremonial County of Greater London, which excludes the City of London.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
name = Greater London
long_name = Greater London
council_name = Greater London Authority

London Boroughs

The 32 London Boroughs are divided into 12 Inner London Boroughs and 20 Outer London boroughs. Four of them have special ceremonial names: one City (Westminster) and three Royal Boroughs (Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames and Greenwich).

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 8
designation = inner_london_borough|outer_london_borough
council_style = (nothing) | city | royal_borough
name = Merton
long_name = London Borough of Merton
council_name = Merton Council

Special Cases

There are two “special case” councils, described as “sui generis” i.e. one of a kind.

City of London

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
designation = sui_generis
name = City of London
long_name = City of London
council_name = City of London Corporation

Scilly Isles

The Scillies have been largely autonomous from Cornwall for many years, governed by their own council, effectively a County Council since 1890. They are also part of the ceremonial county of Cornwall.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
designation = sui_generis
name = Scilly Isles
long_name = Isles of Scilly
council_name = Council of the Isles of Scilly

Civil Liberty

Within the area of the City of London there are two semi-autonomous areas known as Civil Liberties: Inner Temple and Middle Temple. In some ways they function as tiny local authorities, although they have delegated the exercising of some powers “upwards” to the City of London Corporation. I have not found a source of the exact boundaries. Although their theoretical powers approximate to those of a London Borough, an admin level of 9 is probably the best reflection of the practice.



Communities are subdivisions of the Principal Areas and equivalent to the Civil Parish in England. As with English Civil Parishes, a council may or may not exist, depending on whether the population justifies the existence of a Community Council. Communities without a council hold Community Meetings instead. Most do not have a council.

A Community Council may style itself "Town Council", and it may be awarded City status by the Crown.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 10
designation = community
council_style = community | town | city
name = Aberystwyth
name:en = Aberystwyth
name:cy = Aberystwyth
long_name = Aberystwyth
parish_type =  parish_meeting  | parish_council 
council_name = Cyngor Tref Aberystwyth Town Council
council_name:en = Aberystwyth Town Council
council_name:cy = Cyngor Tref Aberystwyth

Principal Areas

Principal Areas in Wales are usually known as Counties. Some have Borough status, and they are known as County Boroughs.

type = boundary
boundary = administrative
admin_level = 6
designation = principal_area
council_style = county | county_borough | city_and_county
name = Cardiff
name:en = Cardiff
name:cy = Caerdydd
long_name = City and County of Cardiff
council_name = Cardiff Council
council_name:en = Cardiff Council
council_name:cy = Cyngor Caerdydd