MEASURES to improve the appearance of a historic market square are under way following an outcry over the sudden felling of five mature trees.

Hambleton District Council has begun removing the stumps of the birch trees, the redundant railings surrounding them and installing floral displays, under guidance from Thirsk In Bloom, at the heart of Thirsk Market Place.

The displays will be designed to last through the town’s busy tourist season, bringing colour to the square, which has been described as looking like a car park since the council cut the trees down without warning residents and traders last month.

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The authority sparked widespread consternation after the work by saying the trees had to be removed because they were a threat to public health and safety, due to tree roots forcing paving slabs up and the profusion of pigeon droppings.

Many residents remain angry over the fellings, and have signed a petition to replace the trees.

One of the men who planted the birch trees 35 years ago, said he had signed the petition to send a clear message to the council.

The Thirsk resident, who declined to be named, said: “I always thought the trees would outlast me, and now they’re gone. It’s very sad”.

Another petition signatory, former Thirsk School teacher John Chaudry, said: “The Market Place now looks bare and unappealing.

“The trees were a meeting point for elderly people, they’re owned by the public not the council, the council is only our representative.”

At a meeting of Thirsk Town Council, former mayor Councillor Cynthia Hesmondhalgh said she wanted to ensure the district council was aware of the level of upset that the tree felling had caused.

Councillor Gareth Dadd, who is leading a group examining ideas to reinvigorate the area, said: “Alongside the work on the Market Place cobbles nearing completion, we hope the temporary measures will mean the area looks attractive for the summer season.”

Cllr Dadd said the steering group, which includes representatives from a range of groups, would announce ideas it had sketched out for the public and the town council to look at, but declined to reveal any of the suggestions.

Following suggestions that proposals could favour some traders over others, he added: “I would find it hard to believe that those involved would be proposing to consult on tables, chairs and umbrellas.”