THE LEADER of a district council has defended a decision to cut down five established trees in a market town after stunned residents said it had spoilt the appearance of the market square.

At a meeting of Thirsk Town Council on Thursday, April 17, councillors heard Hambleton District Council had decided to cut down the five trees, which were planted in the heart of the historic square in 1981, beside the clock tower, without consulting its counterpart.

The town council was told the district authority took rapid action due to health and safety issues, including fears of people tripping over tree roots and the profusion of bird fouling in an area featuring benches where people eat.

Councillor Mo Penson said she had been stunned to find just five stumps remaining of the trees, which despite not have tree preservation order protection, had been a key feature of the square for decades.

She said: "It was an absolutely awful shock.

“The roots are not a trip hazard, and people sit under the trees in the park and have their picnics.

“It has spoilt the centre of Thirsk and I am just appalled.

"Within hours of the trees being cut down I was stopped time after time by people asking why has this happened.”

But leader of Hambleton District Council Mark Robson said the trees had to be removed because they were a threat to public health and safety – and he did not have to consult the town council because it was district council land.

He said: “I had received complaints about bird droppings making the area slippery, and tree roots were getting under the stone flagging, making it unsafe.

“We had to move quickly because of health and safety – and if we had consulted it would have been a very slow process.

“The district council has spent around £200,000 on improving Thirsk market place – more than most other market towns – but I intend to consult with the public, Thirsk in Bloom and the town council to find the best way forward.”

Contractors are nearly half way through individually re-laying parts of the cobbled and York stone paved areas, to the northern side of the market place.

Councillor Nigel Knapton said: “The weekly markets on Saturdays and Mondays are taking place as normal and there will be no disruption to the special bank holiday market on Monday, April 21.”

Alternative parking is available in Marage, Millgate and Nursery car parks.