A council’s felling of 110 trees under the cover of darkness and flanked by security guards has been branded “despicable”.
Plymouth City Council removed the trees – which formed a “green belt” – as part of a regeneration plan for the city centre.
Contractors were forced to halt work at 1am following an injunction by Save The Trees.
A further three trees which had been earmarked for removal were left because they had birds nesting in them.
Campaigners who descended on the street on Tuesday night to try to stop the felling were outnumbered by police and security guards.
Ali White, from campaigner group Save the Trees of Armada Way, said the felling was “despicable” and the group would be seeking a judicial review of the decision.
“The trees came down at an alarming rate, the ones in Wiggly Way pulled up like weeds by machines I could only describe as ‘tree eaters’,” she said.
“What we witnessed was beyond anything we could have dreamed possible – it was the stuff of nightmares. Shocking, upsetting and utterly indefensible.
“The council bragged that they will plant a few more but that is not what this was ever about and I doubt this is what many, if anybody asked for when commenting on their survey for the ‘meaningful community engagement’.
“The people of Plymouth have woken to the news of what happened and the responses to the scenes on Armada Way were as you would expect.
“This despicable decision made by our embarrassment of a council will not be forgotten or forgiven.
“The best-case scenario we have saved a dozen or so trees. It feels like a small victory.
“117 beautiful trees were wiped from the face of Plymouth in just a horrifying five hours.
“The thing the council wanted to avoid – the death of the city centre – has indisputably happened and at the risk of sounding dramatic, with it went our democracy.
“Plymouth’s reputation is in tatters and the people who fought so hard to fight this decision have been shown that the council couldn’t give a toss about what they think. An utter disgrace.”
Luke Pollard, the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “It’s a scene of environmental devastation and utter council vandalism.
“I’m appalled at the actions of the Tory council. Sad day for our city.”
Environmentalist Chris Packham branded it “despicable vandalism”.
The Woodland Trust said it was “appalled” at the use of “secretive night-time operations”.
“We hoped after direct conversations with Plymouth City Council that a far higher proportion of trees could have been retained,” they said.
“The local community have expressed strong opposition to these plans for some time; 16,000 people have signed a petition and they are still fighting to save the sadly few remaining trees.”
The move came days after Sheffield City Council was heavily criticised by an independent inquiry into the felling of thousands of street trees.
Plymouth City Council said the project would “transform this tired and dated city centre route”.
“For reasons of public safety and impact on the city centre and given the size of the tree machinery due to come onto Armada Way, we scheduled the works to be carried out at night with as few people around as possible,” a spokesman said.
“We aimed to minimise the disruption caused to the public and businesses by cordoning off parts of Armada Way.
“Unfortunately, the injunction meant we had to stop work.
“Following an engagement programme, the final design was changed to include 169 semi-mature new trees to be planted, a revised tree planting schedule and a commitment to investigate wider tree planting in the city centre.
“We await applications from the claimant as directed by the court.”