Isle of Man Local Web Guide

Nature and status of local authorities

Local government districts are in 3 categories, town districts, village districts and parish districts. The distinction is not so important today as it once was, but authorities for town districts and village districts have certain powers which authorities for parish districts do not.

The town districts are

  • Douglas
  • Castletown
  • Ramsey
  • Peel

The village districts are

  • Onchan
  • Laxey
  • Michael
  • Port Erin
  • Port St Mary

Nature of local authorities

Apart from the classification into town, village and parish authorities, there are 3 distinct legal categories of local authority:

Commissioners The local authority for each town district (except Douglas), village district and parish district is the body of commissioners elected by the local government electors of the district. The Commissioners are a "body corporate", ie. a legal person separate from the individual commissioners5.

Douglas Corporation The local authority for the town district of Douglas is the municipal corporation6, ie. the body corporate whose formal title is "The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Douglas" but is commonly known as Douglas Corporation. The Corporation acts through the Borough Council, which consists of the mayor and the elected councillors (and is not itself a body corporate)7.

Joint boards A number of joint boards have been established, by orders made by the Department, for areas comprising the districts of 2 or more local authorities8. They are bodies corporate, consisting of members appointed by the constituent authorities (and by the Department in some cases), and are responsible for specific functions, mainly refuse collection, housing for old people or the provision of swimming pools.

Functions of local authorities

It is important that high standards are maintained in local government, and this can be achieved by a full understanding of the legislation governing the functions of local authorities and the procedures in place to exercise those functions.

Powers and duties

At common law a local authority, being a statutory corporation, has power to do only those things which
(a) it is specifically empowered by statute to do, or
(b) are reasonably incidental to doing those things (eg providing buildings, employing staff or engaging professional assistance).
The powers in (b) are given statutory effect by section 16(1) of the Local Government Act 1985.
Any other acts of a local authority are unlawful as being ultra vires (beyond its powers) and any expenses incurred in their performance may be the subject of action under the Audit Act 1983.
Subject to that, the law gives local authorities a wide discretion as to how they exercise their statutory powers and duties and is governed by certain general rules:
  • if a local authority's function is expressed as a duty ("shall"), it must perform it, but if it is expressed as a power ("may"), it is not bound to do so;
  • in deciding whether to exercise a power, and how to perform any function (whether a power or a duty), it is required to act properly and reasonably; that is, (i) it must take into account any relevant considerations, and ignore considerations which are irrelevant; and (ii) it must act reasonably.

Scope of local authority functions

The functions of local authorities can be conveniently grouped under the following headings. Some functions are reserved to town and village authorities or are otherwise restricted.
  • Public information and advice
  • Tourism
  • Refuse collection
  • Street-lighting
  • Environmental health
  • Public conveniences
  • Parks, playgrounds and other leisure facilities
  • Control of dogs
  • Housing
  • Car-parking
  • Street-cleaning
  • Building control
  • Planning
  • Sewerage
  • Libraries and museums
  • Abandoned vehicles

Public information and advice

Although not strictly a function of local authorities, they are relied on by the public to provide a local office or point of contact for persons seeking information about local or central government matters.

In addition, a number of local authority offices are still used for some judicial services, and some clerks to local authorities act as commissioners for oaths or as registrar for births, deaths and marriages and issue car, dog and fishing licences and school bus tickets or contracts. This form of activity is likely to increase in future with the establishment of e-technology.


Local authorities have power to spend up to a specified limit on " improving or prolonging the visiting season in their district and increasing its advantages as a pleasure and health resort".9 The limit is currently the product of a rate of 4p in the £, but may be varied by order of the Department.

Local authorities may also, with the consent of the Department, provide hotels, hostels, camp sites, shops and other premises "for improving the amenities of their district"10.

Refuse collection

The Isle of Man must deal with most of its own wastes, and Tynwald has approved a Waste Management Strategy which includes minimisation, reuse and recycling initiatives and an energy-from-waste facility.

All local authorities are responsible for the collection of household waste and commercial waste within their district; they must make a charge for the collection of commercial waste11.

The refuse collection functions of certain authorities in the North are exercised by a joint board. Other authorities employ contractors to provide the service or their own staff, or both.

The Department's Energy from Waste Facility is due to come on stream in mid 2004 and this facility will see a major change in the way waste is handled throughout the island.

Local authorities have power to provide places for the deposit of waste12, usually called "civic amenity sites". Three sites exist at present, one at Snugborough (to be relocated at the Middle River estate) serving Douglas, Onchan and Braddan, one near Port St Mary serving the south of the Island and one at St Johns serving the west. A further site is planned for the north (near Ramsey), once the temporary site at Ballacallow, Bride closes in 2003. The eastern site is operated by a joint committee consisting of representatives of the eastern local authorities with Braddan Commissioners administering the site The southern site is controlled by a joint board and the western site by a joint committee.

Some local authorities provide bins where items such as glass, paper and aluminium cans be taken for reuse or recycling. Other commodities such as scrap metal, car and dry-cell batteries and used motor oil are also currently being recycled. Composting of green waste now takes place at the southern civic amenity site and the Department is proposing to trial kerbside collection of plastic bottles in the near future.

Waste collected by or delivered to a local authority must be delivered to the Department's landfill site or such other point as the Department may specify13. The Department's energy-from-waste facility (incinerator) is due to come on stream mid 2004. In April 2003 the disposal of waste will be transferred from the Department to a new Waste Management Board14.


Local authorities have power to provide street-lighting within their district15. Street-lighting for new developments will normally be provided by the developer and adopted by the local authority for future maintenance. Some authorities have contracts with the MEA or a private contractor for the maintenance of street-lighting.

Environmental Health

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing certain legislation relating to environmental health within their district, in particular that relating to
  • statutory nuisances (excluding noise)16
  • verminous premises17
  • food hygiene18
  • closure, demolition and clearance of insanitary and unfit housing19
  • regulation of flats20
  • prevention of overcrowding21
  • dangerous and ruinous buildings and untidy land22
  • insanitary drainage etc.23

In order that local authorities may have any necessary technical assistance in performing these functions, the Department makes the services of qualified officers in such areas available on request. These services are provided free of charge.

Public conveniences

Local authorities may provide and maintain public toilets in their district24. Grant assistance is available for the provision of new public toilets for disabled persons.

Parks, playgrounds and other leisure facilities

Local authorities to whom the Recreation and Leisure Act 1998 has been applied25 have wide powers to provide recreational and entertainment facilities in their district, including public parks, gardens, recreation grounds, sports facilities, swimming pools, theatres, concert halls, conference facilities and restaurants. Other local authorities have more restricted powers.
The powers to provide swimming pools are exercisable by joint boards in the north, south and west.

Grant assistance is available for new playground equipment to comply with health and safety guidelines.

Control of dogs

The Department may make byelaws for the control of dogs, as follows26:
  • banning dogs from certain areas;
  • requiring dogs to be under effective control within other areas;
  • "no fouling";
  • "poop scoop".
Such byelaws are normally made at the request of a local authority, and are enforceable by the authority as well as the Department.

The Department is currently reviewing the legislation relating to dogs, in consultation with local authorities.


All local authorities have power to provide public-sector housing in their districts27, but the powers are only exercised by town authorities, village authorities (except Laxey and Michael) and Braddan, Malew, Rushen and Arbory parish commissioners. The Department meets 100% of the deficiency on housing (ie. the loan charges, less the income from rents
after deducting 5% for administration and 33? % for maintenance). The Department provides public-sector housing in other districts, in consultation with the local authority.

Sheltered accommodation for old people is provided by Douglas Corporation and Onchan Commissioners in their districts, and by joint boards elsewhere. The deficiency grants for sheltered housing are the same, except that 10% of rents may be retained for community facilities.


Local authorities have power to provide off-street parking places within their districts28, and may make charges for their use (e.g. "pay and display" or contract charges) or, by arrangement with the Department of Transport, provide short-stay disc parking. Assistance towards this provision may be available.


Street-cleaning is a function of the Department of Transport, but is undertaken by certain local authorities as agents for that Department. Authorities may make a contribution towards the provision of a higher level of service. Some authorities also provide litter bins which are emptied on a regular basis.

Building control

Building standards are laid down by building regulations, supported by detailed guidelines contained in "approved documents" and British Standards, and are enforced by the requirement that plans for all new buildings and new work be deposited with the "building authority"29. The local authorities for Douglas, Peel and Onchan perform this function within their districts; elsewhere the Department is the building authority30. The services of the Department's qualified building control officers are available to assist local authorities in this field (see page 17). In many cases Planning Permission will be required in addition to Building Regulations approval.


Although planning applications and applications for registered building consent are determined by the Planning Committee of the Department (or in some cases the Governor in Council), a local authority is consulted on all applications affecting land in its district, is entitled to request a review and to lodge an appeal against a decision, and is automatically a party to any other review or appeal.

Local authorities are also consulted on any amendment of the Development Plan, and any designation of a conservation area or registration of a building, affecting their district.

The Department is currently undertaking a review of the planning process and a draft document on "Modernising the Planning System" is out for consultation with local authorities.


The Department of Transport is now responsible for all sewerage and sewage disposal in the Island. That Department and a local authority may agree that the former's functions be delegated to the authority, on such terms as may be agreed31.

Libraries and museums

Local authorities have power to provide public libraries and museums within their district32. At present only the authorities for Douglas, Onchan, Peel, Castletown, Ramsey and Port Erin provide lending libraries, which may be used free of charge by residents of their district, and by non-residents at an annual subscription.

Abandoned vehicles

A local authority has power to remove a vehicle illegally parked, or causing an obstruction or danger, from a road in its district, and (subject to compliance with certain requirements) to remove from a road or any land in the open air in its district a vehicle which appears to be abandoned33. It must deliver the vehicle to the Department for disposal34, but may be able to claim the cost of removal. The Waste Management Unit of the Department is currently responsible for dealing with abandoned vehicles. As from 1 April 2003 it is proposed that the Waste Management Unit will be separate from the Department.

5 Local Government Consolidation Act 1916 s.7
Douglas Municipal Corporation Act 1895 s.9
Ibid. s.12
8 Local Government Act 1985 ss.7 & 68, Sch.3; note also Recreation and Leisure Act 1998 s.7.
Local Government (Entertainments) Act 1950 s.3
Local Government Act 1963 s.26
Public Health Act 1990 s.65
Ibid. s.69

13 Ibid. s.67
Waste Management Board Order 2002 (SD 38/02)
Local Government Consolidation Act 1916 s.254
Public Health Act 1990 ss.1-9
Ibid. s.81
Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1978 (GC 188/78)
Housing Act 1955 Parts I and II
Housing (Flats) Regulations 1982 (SD 293/82)
Housing Act 1955 Part III
Building Control Act 1991 ss.22-24, Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1984 s.14
Sewerage Act 1999 ss.29-35
Sewerage Act 1999 s.36
Castletown, Ramsey, Port Erin, Port St Mary, Andreas, Ballaugh, Bride, Jurby, Lezayre, Maughold, Arbory, Malew, Rushen and Santon
Dogs Act 1985 s.24
Housing Act 1955 s.38
28 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1985 ss.10-13
Building Control Act 1991 s.11
Ibid. s.34
Sewerage Act 1999 s.2
Local Government Consolidation Act 1916 s.333-338
Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1984 s.2 34 Ibid. s.4

The information on this web page was sourced from a document produced by the Isle of Man Governments Department of Local Government and the Enviroment. A copy of the document is available to download from thier website. Click Here to download the document.


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