A master plan for the new "super council" for County Durham has been formally approved.
In April 2009 district and borough councils will join up with the existing county council to form one authority.
Councillors approved the plans for 14 Area Action Partnerships to give communities more say in local affairs.
These will include representatives from community organisations, local businesses, unitary, town and parish councils, faith groups and the police.
The precise geographical area of each partnership is still to be defined but each would serve an average population of 35,000 people.
They would also receive an initial annual budget of £250,000 to invest in "local improvements" and cover the costs of area managers and support staff.
However, council leader Simon Henig denied that they would form a second tier of local government.
"They are essential elements of the move towards creating a flagship council that will empower citizens and communities, promote prosperity and modernise service delivery to achieve greater efficiencies and better outcomes," he said.
"We want Durham to be known not just as home to the county cricket champions, but as home to a champion council too."