Separated at birth: Brontë moor and Inca mountain

'They're more similar than you might think,' says Howarth's twinning group. And it's just one of a series of unlikely civic tie-ups

Municipal leaders were once content to cross the Channel and indulge in a weekend of fine wine, sun-kissed boulevards and the kind of food you couldn't get back at the town hall.

But there comes a point when twinning your town with a nice place in France or Germany just isn't enough. According to a survey by the Local Government Association, British towns are now looking to the furthest reaches of the planet to find their perfect partners.

The report shows that there is a burning desire among civic leaders to be seen as more cosmopolitan than their neighbouring parishes. And that has led to them targeting towns from Peru to China for potential tie-ups. This represents a break with the past, when most twinning was between Britain and its continental cousins.

Could there be more unlikely civic partners than Haworth, West Yorkshire, birthplace of the Brontë sisters and Machu Picchu on the Inca trail, for instance? Or how about Macclesfield, Cheshire and Vigan, the Philippines?

Yet, a spokesman for Haworth's Twin Town Group claims his town and Machu Picchu "are more similar than you might think. Both have populations of just less than 3,000, are 50 miles from the nearest regional capital and evoke past societies," he added.

Similarly it is hard to see at first what Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga in the South Pacific, has in common with Whitby in North Yorkshire, unless it's the fact that both towns once survived on the trade of fish, but twin town partners they are.

There are now 2,527 UK towns with links to 87 countries in the world, according to the LGA's survey, and more than a quarter of them are with towns beyond western Europe. Of these, 8 per cent are linked with former Soviet bloc countries, 7 per cent with the US, 5 per cent with Asia, 2 per cent with Africa and 1 per cent with South America and Oceania.

Among the more weird and wonderful twinnings are the UFO capitals of the US and Scotland, Roswell and Bonnybridge.

City bosses now look on twinning as a valuable means of creating partnerships with the new tiger economies to develop economic links, create jobs and stimulate investment.

"The changing face of both Britain and the rest of the world mean that the development of economic and cultural ties through town twinning is becoming ever more important," said Chris White, chairman of the LGA's culture and tourism board. "Councils are helping local people understand the different cultures and customs of dozens of different nations from across the planet."

Yet wherever there is town twinning, there is a fear that council leaders are merely attempting to lead a jet-set lifestyle. Manchester has ties to China, Pakistan, Nicaragua, and Israel, causing some to speculate that civic dignitaries are merely trying to develop a year-round tan.

Perfect partners?

Hay-on-Wye in Wales and Timbuktu in Mali

Whitby, North Yorkshire, and Nuku'alofa in Tonga

Stevenage in Hertfordshire with Chimkent in Kazakhstan

Manchester with Sulaymaniyah in Iraq

Haworth in West Yorkshire with Machu Picchu in Peru

Dundee, Tayside, and Nablus, West Bank

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