Unitary authority

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A unitary authority is a type of local authority that has a single tier and is responsible for all local government functions within its area or performs additional functions which elsewhere in the relevant country are usually performed by national government or a higher level of sub-national government.

Typically unitary authorities cover towns or cities which are large enough to function independently of county or other regional administration. Sometimes they consist of national sub-divisions which are distinguished from others in the same country by having no lower level of administration.



More commonly referred to as single-tier municipalities, they exist as a single level of government in a province that otherwise has two levels of local government. One should not confuse municipalities in provinces with no upper-level of local government as single-tier municipalities, as these are the only level of local government in that province.

Structure of a single-tier municipality varies, and while most function as cities with no upper level of government, some function as counties or regional municipalities with no lower municipal subdivisions below them. The vast majority of Canadian single-tier municipalities are located in Ontario, where they exist as individual census divisions, as well as separated municipalities.


In Germany, kreisfreie Stadt is the equivalent term for a city which is responsible for the local and the Kreis (district) administrative level (the British counties having no directly corresponding counterpart in Germany).

New Zealand

In New Zealand a unitary authority is a territorial authority (district or city) which also performs the functions of a regional council. New Zealand has five unitary authorities: Gisborne District, Nelson City, Tasman District, Marlborough District, and the new Auckland Council. The Chatham Islands Council is not usually considered an unitary authority, although it acts as a regional council for the purposes of the Resource Management Act 1991.

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