A COUNCIL leader who faced uproar after town centre trees were suddenly chopped down has given a guarded welcome to a Government proposal to increase transparency and accountability over the felling of street trees.

Councillor Mark Robson said measures to introduce new duties on local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees could help avert controversies such as arose in Thirsk in 2014.

Hambleton District Council attracted criticism when five 33-year-old birch trees on land the authority owns in the town’s Market Place were removed without notice after officers branded them an immediate threat to health and safety.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposal is intended to ensure that members of the public are appropriately consulted on the felling of street trees, which it says can contribute positively to the quality of life for people in urban areas.

The duty to report would require local authorities to collate and report information on the felling and replanting of trees in a uniform way.

The proposal comes after a freedom of information request revealed that more than 110,000 trees have been chopped down in three years by councils across the UK.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Trees have often been rooted in our towns and cities for many years, and are undoubtedly part of our local heritage.

“These measures will enhance the protection given to urban trees, ensuring residents are properly consulted before trees are felled and safeguarding our urban environment for future generations.”

Mike I’Anson, chairman of Thirsk Community Woodlands Group, which five years ago called for Hambleton District Council to refer itself to a watchdog over the felling of the trees without any public consultation, said the Government proposal would be a step forward.

He said with consultation, the outcome of plants, seats and floral displays that was achieved could have been done without the furore that erupted.

Mr I’Anson said: “The trees were forest trees that were too close to buildings.”

Cllr Robson said he wholeheartedly supported moves to consider residents’ views in decisions that affect their community, but was concerned it could delay action in some instances.

He said: “I believe in consulting with the public in every way, but sometimes trees are simply not in the appropriate place.”