Sussex will not be playing county cricket at Eastbourne next season.

But the club insisted today that the decision to stay away from the Saffrons in 2001 had been taken out of their hands.

The county had scheduled a four-day Championship match from August 22-25 and a one-day National League game on the 26th, both against Durham.

But the Saffrons' authorities have since hired the ground for a charity pop concert on the 25th.

Sussex tried to reschedule the festival for the beginning of August and even toyed with the idea of playing there at the end of the season, but neither option could be worked out. Now both Durham matches will be staged at Hove instead.

Chief Executive Dave Gilbert said: "It's very disappointing because we know that a lot of our members look forward to Eastbourne week, but on this occasion there wasn't much we could do about it.

"Every county is allowed to nominate it's top pick when it comes to the fixtures and we chose that week for Eastbourne first. The borough council has shown a willingness to get involved and we even made sure it didn't clash with the air week in the town.

"But there doesn't seem to have been much dialogue between the Saffrons and Eastbourne Borough Council and the ground has been booked for a concert over the weekend of the 25th-26th.

"We looked at staging Eastbourne at the beginning of August, but we have a floodlit game against Middlesex on the first and the logistics of getting everything from Hove at 10.30pm at night to Eastbourne for an 11am start the next day would have been a nightmare.

"We also thought about staging it in mid-September, but everyone was agreed that it was too late because a lot of the tourists who go to the game would have had their holidays by then."

Sussex and the Saffrons' authorities have been at loggerheads for several months now. This year's festival was in jeopardy at one stage after a row over the cost of hiring extra ground staff and the wicket for the match against Northamptonshire was marked 'below average' by ECB pitch inspectors after the Championship game was over before lunch on the third day.

And both Northants and the 1999 visitors, Essex, have complained about the standard of facilities at the ground.

Gilbert says Sussex hope to return to Eastbourne in 2001, but admits the break might help to improve relations which he admits have become 'strained.'

"We are looking to go back, but this is an opportunity for both parties to have a break from each other. Relations have been strained for a very long time and the county club has felt to be the poor relations.

"In addition we have made it clear to the Saffrons that the facilities are unacceptable for first class cricket and they have to improve."

Eastbourne Borough Council admitted in a statement that the failure to find mutually acceptable dates for the festival was 'very regrettable.'

It added: "If the Saffrons is able to accommodate Sussex in the longer term, the council will be pleased to offer the event what support it can."

Sussex's finalised fixtures for 2001 will be released next week, but the season will start with a Championship game against Worcestershire at New Road on April 25.