IT has been at the heart of York’s Coppergate Shopping Centre for more than 30 years, but now the horse chestnut tree which was once protected from builders and diggers has finally been felled.

Following an incident last month when a large branch fell down on to unsuspecting shoppers, the tree has been cut away gradually until experts felled it completely yesterday.

The shoppers escaped unharmed from the fall of the branch, but the managers of the Coppergate Centre said customer safety remained of paramount importance, which meant removing the tree to avoid the risk of more branches falling.

An inspection by tree experts following last month’s incident showed a structural fault in the tree.

Deb O’Donnell, centre manager at the Coppergate Shopping Centre, said: “This was the necessary course of action. At this time, no decision has been taken as to the future use of the vacant space.”

St Mary’s Square remained sectioned off with metal fencing as the tree was removed yesterday to ensure shoppers were out of harms way.

The Press previously reported that the director of York Civic Trust, Peter Brown, hoped another tree could be planted in the square at some point in the future, although he was not against the felling of the tree. He said: “All trees have a life cycle.”

He suggested another species of tree might be better to plant because of bleeding canker, a fungal disease which has been affecting horse chestnut trees across the country.