THE scaling-down of a popular annual music event because of a funding crisis has been blamed on a lack of support for rural music by Darlington Borough Council.

The annual Musical Picnic in the Park, in Hurworth, near Darlington, which attracted more than 1,000 people last year, was almost cancelled earlier this month.

But members of Hurworth Community Association, which organises the event, decided this week that the concert would go ahead on a smaller scale, several weeks later than scheduled, after the regular sponsors withdrew.

It is now too late to get a replacement sponsor and the community association has insufficient funds to risk on a large-scale concert.

Dave McBeath, chairman of the community association, said last night: "This year we are going to fund it ourselves, which means it will be a smaller event."

No date has been set, but it is expected to take place at the beginning of August.

The postponement means that opera star Susannah Clarke will not be able to perform at the event. Her appearance has been a big boost for the event in the past two years.

Roderick Burtt, who represents Hurworth on Darlington Borough Council, blamed the funding crisis on the council's lack of help for rural communities.

He said: "This sort of problem is likely to be seen in other rural wards in Darlington because of the constant removal of financial aid for village halls.

"The people of Hurworth got this picnic going as a means of fundraising for the community centre after the council stopped some of its funding.

"But since then further support has been taken away from Hurworth Grange, and all the support is being taken into the town and being spent on things like youth projects.

"What the council has to remember is that there are other people in Darlington borough apart from youths."

A council spokeswoman said: "Support is available for village halls and community centre. If they can come to us with a programme of youth activity that can take place there and it can be developed we will consider it as an opportunity.

"We do sympathise with their plight, and if they want to come and talk to us for advice about getting alternative sponsorship they can do."