Local council wards are really very interesting, actually

The Highlands, home of big wards. Image: Getty.

Did you know that the UK’s biggest ward accounts for 2 per cent of the total area of the UK? You did? Ok then, did you know that only one UK ward out of more than 9,000 begins with “z”? Perhaps you did.

But did you know that “Plumpton, Streat, East Chiltington and St John (Without)” is the longest ward name in the UK, and also perhaps the best? How about the fact that there are 11 UK wards bigger than Greater London and the smallest ward in the country (in the City of London) is not very big at all – 0.044 km2 (about 6 football pitches). The ward that you’d most like to drink? Why, that’s the ward of “Speyside Glenlivet” (in Moray), surely.

Time for some maps now. They all have the name of the local authority they’re in in the top left, with the ward name along the bottom.

Not quite as big as Trinidad and Tobago, but close enough.

It’s small, ancient and has about 320 people.

Zetland ward, in Redcar and Cleveland.

If you’re a local councillor in the UK’s biggest ward you have an awful lot of ground to cover, as you can see below for the journey between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, which are both in the same ward but over three hours apart. Extra points if you can pronounce Achiltibuie (I can but I have a bit of an advantage on the Highland-place-names-as-Shibboleth thing).

The route between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, in the same ward. Image: Google Maps.

There are two really, really big wards in the UK. One is shown above: that’s Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh. The other is North, West and Central Sutherland. Both are in the north west Highlands, and are more than 4,800 km2 in size (that’s over 1,800 square miles, which is close to three times the size of Greater London, or 18 City of Edinburghs).

The biggest ones in other parts of the UK are a good bit smaller, and here they are below. Overall, the 10 biggest UK wards account for more than 10 per cent of the land area of the UK, and the 100 biggest account for just over 30 per cent of the UK’s land area. You could fit almost 3,000 of the smallest UK wards in Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, but I don’t think it’s a very sensible idea so I’d advise against it.

By far the biggest ward in England.

Just a smidgen bigger than Torr Head and Rathlin.

The biggest ward in Wales is also a donut ward.

The other humongous ward. 

All this isn’t supposed to be profound or anything like that, just a bit of map trivia, so read on for a bit more about the little wards. The smallest wards in the UK are all in the City of London, and we’ve seen the smallest of those above (Queenhithe) so let’s look at smallest ones in different parts of the UK instead.

Northern Ireland’s smallest ward.

Scotland’s smallest ward.

The smallest ward in Wales.

Not the street of Charles Booth fame, but it is small.

Wards are actually very important though, and they represent a very important part of local democracy in the UK – so there are some practical implications to this kind of thing, particularly when you consider the different areas people represent and how widely they can vary, even within a single local authority. For example, in Northumberland the biggest ward is more than 1,100 times the size of the smallest. In the Highland Council area in Scotland, the biggest ward is over 1,300 times the size of the smallest.
But did you know that wards can also be mapped with a basemap in greyscale? You didn’t? Okay, here’s proof, with a selection of wards covering more than 100 km2.

Lots of big wards in this neck of the woods.

Not anywhere near Bolton.

Another donut ward - I’m not sure how many there actually are.

10th biggest ward in Northern Ireland.

Yes, the Isle of Skye is a single ward (pop about 10,500).

I like the name of this ward.

Notes: I used ward boundaries for 2018 from the ONS Open Geography Portal. This file contains 9,114 wards for the UK, with 7,446 in England, 462 in Northern Ireland, 354 in Scotland and 852 in Wales. Scotland has relatively few wards compared to Northern Ireland and England but I won’t go into that here.

My favourite ward? Not sure, but Aird and Loch Ness is definitely a contender – see below. It contains all of Loch Ness, is pleasingly-shaped and is only a little bit smaller than Luxembourg. Then there is “Highland” ward which is not in “Highland” (the council area) but is in the Highlands but in the Perth and Kinross council area. I have loads more of these maps but that’s enough for today.

The midgie capital of the world (at least in my experience).

Hmm.

 

Dr Alasdair Rae is a senior lecturer in the urban studies & planning department of the University of Sheffield. This article was originally posted on his blog, and is reposted here with the author's permission.

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