A non-metropolitan county of Cleveland was created in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, named after the historic region but not covering it all, and also including land north of the River Tees in County Durham. It was based around the Teesside urban area and included Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool and Redcar. At this time the use of the name ‘Cleveland’ or ‘Teesside’ to refer to the area was virtually interchangeable.
Unlike such counties as the almost universally loathed Humberside, the County of Cleveland was generally well liked by its residents: this did not prevent the county from being abolished in 1996 with its boroughs becoming unitary authorities and the Tees re-established as the border between North Yorkshire and County Durham for ceremonial purposes only.
The county was called "Cleveland", instead of "Teesside" as originally proposed in the Local Government Bill, due to fears in areas not part of the old Teesside county borough that it represented a takeover. It was formed on 1 April 1974, from the former county boroughs of Teesside and Hartlepool, the Stockton Rural District from Durham, and from the North Riding of Yorkshire, the urban districts of Guisborough, Loftus, Saltburn and Marske-by-the-Sea and Skelton and Brotton, along with some parishes from Stokesley Rural District.
The four districts of the County of Cleveland were Hartlepool, Langbaurgh-on-Tees, Stockton-on-Tees, and Middlesbrough. The county town was Middlesbrough. It had a total area of 225 square miles (583 km²) and an estimated population of 567,600 in 2000. The county bordered County Durham to the north and North Yorkshire to the south, and it faced the North Sea to the east.
Cleveland was one of the areas in the first tranche of reviews conducted by the Banham Commission. The Commission's final recommendations, accepted by the government, were that each of the districts should be made a unitary authority, and additionally that the Tees should be re-established as a ceremonial border. This was fiercely contested by Cleveland County Council, who applied for judicial review over the decision. According to the Minister, David Curry, in the Commons debate on the order on 11 January 1995, this caused a delay from 1 April 1995 as the reorganisation date to 1 April 1996. The rationale for Cleveland's abolition remains unclear and the majority of residents appeared to prefer to remain under a clear and defined county, particularly in hindsight.
As the first of the Orders to be laid before Parliament, it was done in two stages. The Cleveland (Structural Change) Order 1995 had the main effect of abolishing the County Council, whilst The Cleveland (Further Provision) Order 1995 abolished the actual county, creating four new (non-metropolitan) unitary authorities coterminous with each of the boroughs. A division was forced by the Opposition, on the first Order, with 310 in favour and 223 in opposition. Of Cleveland's 6 MPs, Mo Mowlam and Frank Cook (both Labour) voted against, with Tim Devlin and Michael Bates (both Conservative) voted for. Stuart Bell and Peter Mandelson (both Labour) were present at the debate but did not vote.
On 1 April 1996, the Orders came into force. The district of Langbaurgh-on-Tees was renamed Redcar and Cleveland, the County of Cleveland was abolished, and four unitary authorities authorities created. The post of Lord Lieutenant of Cleveland was abolished, with the area being split between the ceremonial counties of Durham and North Yorkshire. However, Cleveland Police and other institutions covering the four boroughs, were retained. The area (including Hartlepool) is known as 'Teesside' for some purposes, and with Darlington the term Tees Valley is becoming more popular in the press and with local government, although it continues to be generally unused and unrecognised by the actual residents of this area.
As a small, recently formed authority, Cleveland was not well known, leaving the post-1996 boroughs effectively unheard of to all but the local population or those with links to the area. Recent investigations into the resident populations opinions as to their own identity reveal that people believe themselves to be part of either 'Cleveland', 'Teesside', 'Yorkshire' or 'Durham'. The age of the interviewee appears to be the defining factor as to which title they identify with.
The name Cleveland has not been entirely eliminated; these bodies still exist:
Cleveland was for many years also the name of a constituency for the House of Commons. The Cleveland constituency had been created by the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, by the division of the North Riding constituency, and was succeeded by the Cleveland and Whitby for the February 1974 general election. The TS postcode area, which covers much of the former county, is also known officially as the Cleveland postcode area. Cleveland was adopted by the Royal Mail as a postal county in 1974. The 'TS' implies that the county of Cleveland was originally to be named Teesside or that the postcoding scheme was divised for a larger County Borough of Teesside than was actually created.