Before 1894, governance was based on a variety of groups around ecclesiastical parishes which 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. Some areas of County Durham did not become “parished” as a result ogf this Act and therefore do not have parish council representation.
The Local Government and Rating Act 1977 gave the Secretary of State the power to create new parish councils. This was normally done following receipt of a local petition from residents which gave details of the area to be parished, the electorate and number of Councillors required etc. This has happened especially in large towns and cities which do not have a history of parish governance. In County Durham three new parishes have been created recently in Bishop Auckland, Greater Willington and Stanley. In population terms Stanley is now the largest parish council in County Durham.
Since the introduction of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 the creation of parish councils is now permitted within London boroughs, previously there was no law to create them.
Using the same new powers Durham County Council now has the power to create new Parish Councils in County Durham.
There are currently around 8,500 Parish Councils in the Country with an estimated 80,000 Parish Councillors.