CONTROVERSIAL work to axe trees in ancient woodland in Southampton has been halted.

Southampton Airport, which owns the land at Marlhill Copse, has confirmed that work to fell some trees at the site has been stopped until June 2.

The Echo understands that work has stopped to give the planning committee at Southampton City Council the opportunity to discuss the proposals and the evidence in a public meeting on June 2.

When asked whether this is the reason behind the decision to stop work at the site, Southampton Airport neither confirmed nor denied.

But in a statement it said: "We can confirm that we have had to cease the felling of the remaining four trees until June 2nd. Our primary aim is to protect the wellbeing of all those who live near and visit the copse.  We are disappointed that we are still being prevented from doing that."

The city council - which last week said it had spent "a significant amount of time dealing with repeated media requests" and would not make any further comment on Marlhill Copse - is yet to comment on the claims.

The news comes as at the start of this month the city council was accused of "killing democracy" after the plans to fell five trees at the site were approved by council officers although the planning application had sparked 50 objections.

The process was described as "undemocratic" as the authority had also previously promised campaigners that any future work at the site would be discussed in public.

But both the airport and the council defended the decision saying it had to be taken urgently due to the risks the trees pose to the public and nearby properties.

As reported, council leader Christopher Hammond said a meeting of the planning committee could not be held earlier than May 20 and experts advised that waiting created “an unnecessary risk”.

The authority has been urged to publish the evidence used by officers to make the decision.

Last Friday, councillor Steve Leggett, cabinet member for green city  and environment at the city council, said: "The council has spent a significant amount of time dealing with repeated media requests from the Daily Echo around the felling of trees at Marlhill Copse. We have clearly explained what has happened on numerous occasions and we now wish to concentrate on keeping our residents safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. We will not be providing further comment on Marlhill Copse at this stage.”

The authority has now been approached for comment.