[Talk-GB] Checking UK Towns

Mark Goodge mark at good-stuff.co.uk
Wed Jan 30 19:00:52 UTC 2019

On 30/01/2019 16:00, Tom Hughes wrote:

> The fundamental problem with this, as Jerry has just said, is that
> many towns in the UK have no defined boundary.
> Even where there is an administrative entity there is no guarantee
> that it's boundary equates to what most people would view as the
> boundary of the town - it may under or overstate things.

One useful thing here is the ONS concept of a "Built Up Area". That aims 
to give the normal human name of a defined place - for example, 
Mansfield and Maidenhead are both in the list, and mean what someone 
living there would expect them to mean. And it has subdivisions for 
major settlements - for example, the BUA of Greater London includes 
BUASDs of Bromley and Camden.

Shapefiles are available from the ONS Geography website, and are OGL, so 
they're compatible with OSM.

The downside of ONS BUA data is that it's only updated once per census, 
so the current dataset is now a bit out of date - it doesn't take 
account of new developments on the edge of existing settlements, for 
example. But, as a simple source of names, it's very valuable. And 
alterations to boundaries can be mapped on the ground, provided you've 
got an existing boundary to work with.

> Equally there is no clear way of even determining what is, or is
> not, a town. Just a variety of rules-of-thumb...

As far as local government is concerned, there is a defined meaning of a 
town. That is, any settlement which has a town council (eg, Evesham, 
Newmarket). And, for larger settlements, the word "town" is what most 
people would call what is, officially, a non-metropolitan borough (eg, 
Bromsgrove, Ipswich).

More generally, while there's no single definition of a town, it can be 
reasonably assumed to be the default terminology for any built-up area 
unless you know for certain that it isn't a town (eg, because it's a 
city, or it has a parish council, or is too small to have a council at 


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