England’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of English history, but many of the counties have been sidelined by Whitehall in recent decades, whether by the bland municipal restructuring of Edward Heath’s Government in 1972, or by the imposition of artificial regional structures by the last Labour Government based on the EU’s Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (the appropriately-named “NUTS” Regulations).
Yet the tapestry of England’s counties binds our nation together, and is interwoven with our cultural fabric – from our cricket to our ales. So this Government has taken a series of steps to champion our traditional counties:
• We have amended planning regulations to allow local and county flags to be flown without planning permission, and published a plain English guide to flying flags. Previously, flying a county flag on an existing flag pole required a princely sum of £335 to be paid to the council.
• We have supported the Flag Institute in publishing a new guide for would-be vexillologists to encourage a new wave of county and other local flags to be designed and flown. http://www.flaginstitute.org/wp/british-flags/creating-local-and-community-flags/
• My Department has flown a range of county flags in Whitehall to mark different county days, including Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Westmorland and Middlesex. We have also flown flags to celebrate other historic localities such as those of the Ridings of Yorkshire and of Wessex – the kingdom which gave birth to the united English nation.
• We are changing highways regulations to allow traditional county names to appear on boundary road signs. The previous rules prevented unitary councils like Blackpool from having a road sign saying ‘Lancashire’, or Poole saying ‘Dorset’ – since they were not considered to be part of the ‘administrative county’.
• We have a new online interactive map of England’s different county boundaries. http://communities.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Compare/storytelling_compare/index.html?appid=7b0e661ef66b4a7aacb5a9acf55108ac
• Ordnance Survey, the Government’s National Mapping Agency, now provides a dataset of current, ceremonial counties (counties retained for the purposes of representing Her Majesty by Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs). http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/help-and-support/products/boundary-line.html
• I can also announce to the House today that from May a dataset of the traditional, historic counties based on 19th Century boundaries will be available on the OS OpenData portal. These datasets are compatible with the OS Boundary-Line product which is available to all free of charge. Ordnance Survey is also going to provide a viewing map window on their website showing both the historic and ceremonial County boundaries on top of a base map.
• Later in the year, Ordnance Survey is hoping to publish a paper map of the Historic Counties of England, Scotland and Wales (as defined in the Local Government Act 1888 for England and Wales and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 for Scotland), which will be available to the general public to purchase and proudly display.
We are stronger as a nation when we cherish and champion our local and traditional ties. This Government is proud to wave the flag of St George and Union flag alongside our county flags. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, we should have pride in our English identity within the United Kingdom’s Union that binds us all together.