A CHARITY has called for a council to apologise or refer itself to a watchdog over its decision to fell five mature tress at the heart of a historic market square.

Thirsk Community Woodlands Group said while Hambleton District Council had owned the birch trees in the town's Market Place, it had failed to value the contributions the community can make to the management of public spaces by cutting them down before Easter, without consulting residents or traders.

The action sparked anger in the town, despite the authority’s leader, Councillor Mark Robson saying the 35-year-old trees had to be removed because they were a threat to public health and safety.

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He said there had been complaints about bird droppings making the area slippery, and tree roots were getting under the stone flagging, making it unsafe.

Coun Robson said: "We had to move quickly because of health and safety - and if we had consulted it would have been a very slow process.”

Thirsk district and county councillor Gareth Dadd has launched a steering committee to produce outline ideas for the area near the clock tower and a public consultation will be held in the coming months, which will invite people to comment and make suggestions.

The woodlands group, which is a member of the steering committee and has planted more than 3,000 trees over the past 12 years, said a case could have been made for removing the trees over time, to avoid the loss of tree cover or shade to the Market Place.

It said while it would not recommend planting birch trees in the Market Place, as they can grows to 60ft, tree planting in urban spaces was increasing and species such as whitebeam would be appropriate.

Its chairman, Mike I’Anson, said by launching into the work the council had failed to apply to itself the same standards it would have expected any other person or body to apply.

He added the issue of the trees was widening into concerns over how the council came to make the decision to cut them down.

He said: “The council chose to ignore the community and for those of us that will, with reservations, now engage with them we need to ensure we are not being used but seek to ensure our involvement sees trees returned to the Market Place.

“It has failed to apply the standards expected of our council and should apologies for its hasty, inappropriate and disproportionate actions.

“Alternatively, if the council believes it acted correctly it should refer itself to The Ombudsman for Local Authorities.”