I know similar questions have been asked before but none have given me exactly what I need. I am trying to find boundary shapefile data for the UK which splits different subdivisons into different layers (the exact number of subdivisions doesn't matter), with each feature of a layer referencing it's parent in the above layer.

I would like the data to be 'clean' in that each layer only has appropriate regions, e.g. a county and city aren't on the same layer, so that all features of a layer are of a similar size and no features are surrounded entirely by another feature on the same layer (an enclave).

The closest I have got so far is at gadm.org, which provided shapefiles with perfect attributes, however Unitary Authorities were listed separately to their parent county on the same layer (e.g. Nottingham was an enclave within Nottinghamshire on the county layer, and thus in the next layer down Nottingham's parent layer was Nottingham, not Nottinghamshire). I could merge these and change the data for the parent, but this would have to be done manually which isn't preferable.

Also, this is not a duplicate of Seeking administrative boundaries for various countries?, I am asking for much more specific data.

  • You should look into Spatial Joins.
    – csk
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 19:26
  • I guess I'd still have to manually join all the features that aren't right though? Commented May 19, 2018 at 19:43
  • 2
    If you are seeking open data I recommend asking at the Open Data Stack Exchange.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 20:58
  • 1
    opendata boundary-line ordnancesurvey.co.uk/opendatadownload/products.html#BDLINE "maps every administrative boundary in Great Britain, down to the level of council wards."
    – Mapperz
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 1:37
  • 1
    The whole point of a Unitary Authority is that it has no parent authority - it is a county and a district. So Nottingham is not part of Nottinghamshire.
    – Ian Turton
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


I agree with Ian on this - you cannot have a unitary with a parent as this is not how the governance structure works. Similarly, districts are not children of a county either - this is known as a 2 tier administration but each entity is an autonomous organisation hence why you won't find the data you are looking for! I would try to understand the administration structure before you go any further as any research or analysis will be starting on the wrong footing and (if this is what you are doing) any result will have no validity! It's not the easiest thing to understand I'm afraid!

  • We've established that the structure does exist in ceremonial counties, and I'm not concerned with the governance, just a clean way to divide up the country. Commented May 21, 2018 at 16:09

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