Historic city’s landmark felled amid safety fears

IT WAS a landmark for visitors from around the globe, and provided a sprinkling of festive cheer during the run-up to Christmas each year.

But a horse-chestnut tree which had stood in the heart of York for more than a century was cut down yesterday amid growing concerns that it had become a safety threat to shoppers and tourists who were passing underneath its branches.

The tree had been in the square of the Coppergate shopping centre, and was a familiar sight for visitors queuing outside the Jorvik Viking Centre. It had also been used as part of the city’s Christmas lights display in recent years, when it was illuminated with distinctive blue fairy lights.

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The tree was preserved while the shopping centre, which opened in 1984, was built following the York Archaeological Trust’s famous Coppergate dig, on which the Jorvik centre now stands. But a branch had fallen off at the end of last month, prompting fears a passer-by could be seriously injured. A survey by tree surgeons on July 29 found the horse-chestnut, which is thought to be more than 100 years old, was unsafe and would have to be brought down.

The York Civic Trust’s chairman, Peter Addyman, said: “It is a real sadness to see the tree go. While safety has to be of paramount importance, the tree was a landmark for the city centre. I do hope that another tree will be planted there, but it will obviously take time to grow to the size that this one was.”

A four-strong team of contractors used a cherry-picker yesterday to cut off the top branches before employing chainsaws to bring down the massive trunk. The wood was loaded on to two flat-bed trucks to be taken away.

The Coppergate Shopping Centre’s manager, Deb O’Donnell, confirmed the tree’s main fork had developed a weakness which rendered it unsafe, although she stressed it was not connected to the branch which had fallen off. She also confirmed plans have yet to be finalised for how the space left where the tree once stood will be used.