The West Midlands is a metropolitan county in western central England with a population of 2,591,300. It came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. The county consists of seven metropolitan boroughs: the City of Birmingham, the City of Coventry and the City of Wolverhampton, plus Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall.
The West Midlands County Council was abolished on 31 March 1986, and so its districts (the metropolitan boroughs) are now unitary authorities. However, the metropolitan county continues to exist in law and as a geographic frame of reference.
The county is sometimes described as the "West Midlands metropolitan area" or the "West Midlands conurbation", although these have different, and less clearly defined, boundaries. The conurbation, or urban area, does not include Coventry for example.
The seven metropolitan boroughs, along with the nearby unitary authority of Telford and Wrekin are starting to collaborate as a non-statutory city region under the name "Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country". The name "West Midlands" is also used for the much larger West Midlands region, which sometimes causes confusion.
The West Midlands County is one of the most heavily urbanised counties in the UK. Birmingham, Wolverhampton, the Black Country and Solihull together form the most populated conurbation in the UK outside London, with a combined population of around 2.27 million. However, the West Midlands is not entirely urban; Coventry is separated from the West Midlands conurbation by a stretch of green belt land roughly 15 miles across known as the "Meriden Gap", which retains a strongly rural character. A smaller piece of green belt between Birmingham, Walsall and West Bromwich includes Barr Beacon and the Sandwell Valley.
The highest point in the West Midlands in Turners Hill, with a height of 269 m (876 ft). The hill is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Barr Beacon is another hill in the West Midlands, located on the border of Birmingham and Walsall, with a height of 227 m (745 ft).
There are 23 Site of Special Scientific Interest in the county. One of these SSSIs is Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield, which has an area of 900.1 hectares (2224.2 acres / 9.0 km²). As a result, it is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and the largest outside of a capital city in Europe. The park also has National Nature Reserve status.
There are numerous rivers that pass through the county, including the River Tame. The river basin is the most urbanised basin in the United Kingdom with approximately 42% of the basin being urbanised. The River Tame is fed by the River Rea, River Anker, and the River Blythe, which in turn is fed by the River Cole. The River Sowe and River Sherbourne both flow through Coventry. The River Stour flows through the west of the West Midlands county.
1966 saw a substantial reform in the local government of the area as the patchwork of county boroughs with municipal boroughs and urban district councils in between was replaced by a core of county boroughs covering a contiguous area, roughly as follows:
Around the periphery of this area, three other towns remained separate (Halesowen, Stourbridge and Sutton Coldfield), while Aldridge and Brownhills joined to form a single unit, called Aldridge-Brownhills. In the same year, a single West Midlands Constabulary was formed for the Black Country county boroughs, whilst Birmingham retained its Birmingham City Police and Solihull continued being policed by the Warwickshire Constabulary. The West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority was established in 1968.
In 1974, the Local Government Act 1972 came into effect, creating the metropolitan county of West Midlands. This area was based on the seven county boroughs and the other non-county boroughs and urban districts around the fringe of the conurbation. The new area consisted of seven new metropolitan boroughs, with Aldridge-Brownhills added to Walsall; Halesowen and Stourbridge to Dudley and Sutton Coldfield to Birmingham. A new borough of Sandwell was formed by the merger of West Bromwich and Warley. The actual designation of Warley itself was abolished and the three towns of Smethwick, Oldbury and Rowley Regis reinstated as component parts of Sandwell, although these areas formed the Warley postal district. Solihull took in much of the suburban fringe to the east of Birmingham, including the former villages of Chelmsley Wood and Castle Bromwich, also Birmingham Airport, and the area of countryside between Solihull and Coventry, whilst Coventry itself received only small changes and Wolverhampton was unaltered. This led to (apart from in the east, with Coventry and the Meriden Gap) quite a tightly defined metropolitan border, excluding such places as Burntwood, Bromsgrove, Cannock, Kidderminster, Lichfield and Wombourne which had been considered for inclusion in the West Midlands metropolitan area by the Redcliffe-Maud Report. The 1974 reform created the West Midlands County Council that covered the entire area and dealt with strategic issues. A new West Midlands Police service was formed covering the entire area, with the West Midlands Constabulary and Birmingham City Police abolished, and also taking over responsibility from the county forces.
Margaret Thatcher's government abolished the metropolitan county councils with the Local Government Act 1985, in March 1986, causing the seven metropolitan boroughs to become de facto unitary authorities with most of the county councils' functions given to the district councils.
Between 1974 and 1986, the county had a two-tier system of local government, and the seven districts shared power with the county council. However, when the county council was abolished in 1986, most of its functions were devolved to the districts which effectively became unitary authorities, with responsibility for most local authority functions.
These joint-boards are made up of councillors appointed from each of the seven West Midlands district councils. In addition to this, the West Midlands Joint Committee exists as a joint body of the seven districts to co-ordinate matters such as roads and planning. The seven West Midlands councils jointly produce a county-wide Local Transport Plan.
The boroughs jointly own a share in Birmingham International Airport, which used to be owned by the county council.
The Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies and Newman College, both in Birmingham, received university college status in 2008 and 2007, respectively. The colleges changed their names as a result and both pledged to become Birmingham's fourth university. University College Birmingham, formerly Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies, purchased a two-acre site in the Jewellery Quarter area of Birmingham to expand it's student capacity from 3,500 to 4,000 which would make it legible for University status.
Following a merger with North Birmingham College in 2003 and Josiah Mason College in August 2006, Sutton Coldfield College has become one of the sixth form colleges in Britain.
The West Midlands is also home to Warwickshire County Cricket Club, who are based at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, which also hosts Test matches and One Day Internationals. The Birmingham Panthers basketball team replaced the Birmingham Bullets and are currently based at a facility provided by the University of Wolverhampton in Walsall. In rugby, West Midlands is home to Moseley Rugby Football Club, Birmingham & Solihull RFC, Dudley Kingswinford RFC, Stourbridge RFC, Walsall RFC and Coventry RFC.