Arson attacks in Sussex leapt by more than two-thirds in just four years, new figures have revealed.

The rise includes a massive increase in the number of burnt-out vehicles, according to today's report to MPs.

Fire chiefs have been warned attacks on cars will continue to soar because of new rules that will lead to more being dumped on the street and on waste land.

The figures show there were 857 malicious fires across the East Sussex Fire Brigade area in 1997, of which 455 involved vehicles.

By 2001, the last year for which figures were available, the number had risen to 1,431, of which 919 were burnt out vehicles - an increase of 67 per cent.

There were 582 malicious fires across the West Sussex Fire Brigade area in 1997, of which 239 were in vehicles.

By 2001 that number had risen to 985, of which 539 were vehicles, up 69 per cent.

Under new European Union rules, motorists must pay up to £100 to recycle cars, instead of receiving up to £40 for them from a scrap metal dealer.

The Government has ruled drivers rather than the motor industry must meet the costs of complying with the End of Life Vehicle directive until 2007.

The move has raised fears that more cars will be dumped.

The Government has pledged to strengthen controls on licensing and computer records to trace owners.

Under laws introduced last year, local authorities can take away wrecks after just 24 hours, rather than having to wait seven days.

The figures, from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, were released as the Government prepares to shut many town centre fire stations.

Ministers are planning a shake-up which will lead to more stations opening close to motorways and council estates, where the threat to life is greatest.

East and West Sussex fire authorities will be asked to carry out a detailed assessment, within six months, of where and when most fires and accidents happen.