Urban and rural definitions


In 2004 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs provided a very detailed 'definition' of rural morphology at a number of small geographical levels below local authority, namely ward, middle layer super output area, lower layer super output area and census output Area (COA). The last of these geographies had been developed for the 2001 Census, released from 2002 onwards, and the super output areas were developed over the following two years as aggregations of the COAs for reporting both the census and other statistics. At COA level the rural morphology types were either 'urban' or one of three rural types, 'town and fringe', 'village' or 'hamlet and isolated dwellings'. At the higher levels the last two morphology types were merged into one 'village, hamlet and isolated dwellings'. As well as the morphology types there were two contexts: 'less sparse' and 'sparse'. In theory either context could be combined with any morphology, but in practice the 'sparse' context was usually associated with village and hamlet morphologies, and within Lancashire there were only three 'sparse' definitions applied. All were in Lancaster district, all at COA level and all in conjunction with the 'hamlet and isolated dwellings' morphology. 

Following the 2011 Census, for which some COAs and super output areas had been revised, a new definition, or classification, was developed. The defining terms were modified so that there were three urban typologies: 'major conurbation', 'minor conurbation' and 'city and town' while the rural typologies were as before. Hence the word 'town' appears in both urban and rural settings. For context the phrase 'in a sparse setting' was added to any of the rural types and the 'urban city and town' type. Again in Lancashire the sparse setting only occurs in Lancaster, only at COA level and only in conjunction with 'hamlet and isolated dwellings, but this time only on two occasions. Additionally there are no parts of Lancashire classified as 'urban minor conurbation'. 

The first part of the full article looks at the classifications at COA level, and it highlights the local changes since the 2004 definition was released. The last part examines the higher geography changes and we have also provided a data file that lists the COAs with their classifications alongside the associated LSOA, MSOA and ward for that COA showing their respective classifications.

Download the full document here (PDF 1,188 KB)

page updated September 2013