Rural Urban Classification

Principal Investigator:

Peter Bibby


January 2014 - February 2015

Defra wishes to develop methods for classifying local authority districts (LADs) or combinations of districts in accordance with the mix of urban and rural settlement types found within them, updating its previous Rural Urban Classification. Previous work accomplished this by considering the proportion of population of any LAD within settlements considered variously urban or rural. For this purpose, the set of settlements with less than 10,000 population was augmented by a further group of towns considered to play a critical role in providing services to the rural population (on the conventional definition). Once these proportions had been assessed, LADs were grouped into classes on the basis of the scale of their urban areas, by application of a series of thresholds to to their (augmented) rural population shares.

The crux of Defra’s present requirement is identification of those settlements with a population in excess of 10,000 population which seem likely to have an enduring though not unchanging role as a service hub of some sort for their rural hinterland. The previous classification tackled this by identifying ‘larger market towns’ with a population of 10,000 to 30,000 with an agglomeration of specified services. While there is a desire to maintain a high level of continuity with that classification Defra wishes to adopt an approach that is somewhat closer to other elements of RUC by using dwelling densities, and if that is insufficient, business densities.

This project proposes an approach to updating RUC using Census and postal data for 2011. At its core it seeks to identify a group of settlements similar in nature to the ‘larger market towns’ relying as little as possible on the identification of specific services. The towns to be identified are referred to here as ‘hub towns’- a provisional term used simply to distinguish them where necessary from the ‘larger market towns’ previously identified.

More generally, it sets out an approach to updating RUC which seeks to provide a high degree of consistency with earlier work, but extends it in two further respects. The first of these involves an exploration of the likelihood of any need to revise the augmented population thresholds given change in the balance of urban and rural population since 2001, and in view of a possible requirements to classify other areas at the LAD or larger scales. The second involves supplementing the central augmented measure of augmented population by one or more measures of interdependence of urban and rural areas.


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)