Protests have been held outside Machynlleth hospital after “iconic and beautiful” trees were felled to make way for “essential construction and drainage work”.

Around 25 people gathered outside the building on Friday morning, the day after Powys Teaching Health Board had overseen the felling of magnolia, cypress, holly and cherry trees that have stood in the grounds for decades.

Police officers attended the protest with contractors due to fell more trees, but that work was halted.

While the health board said the move was “sad but unavoidable” and was needed “so that essential construction and drainage work can take place”, the move sparked outrage from residents, who flooded the health board with complaints, accusing it of “utter community vandalism”.

Among the objections to the move on the health board’s Facebook page, residents said they were “distressed” at the felling of the trees, which will have a “significant negative effect on the wellbeing of everyone who lives here”.

Liz Mutch, of community woodland group Llais y Goedwig, said: “It is a very bittersweet moment as the act cannot be undone.

“It is however thanks to the passionate and persistent protest by the residents of Machynlleth, that this action has been halted.”

The removal of the trees was part of the early stages of a proposed multi-million pound revamp of Machynlleth hospital.

Machynlleth county councillor Michael Williams said he was “very sad and upset” at the felling of the trees, but said he had been “assured” by senior health board officials that it was necessary.

“I can well understand the feelings of the people who are upset at the removal of the trees,” he told the Cambrian News.

“The magnolia was absolutely magnificent, but I was told the removal was necessary for works to begin to gain planning permission for the hospital redevelopment, which is a crucial improvement that is needed for everyone in the Machynlleth area.”

In a statement, Powys Health Board said the tree felling was “sad but unavoidable”, but later agreed to cease work on the site to allow a “dialogue” with the local community following a “review of operations”.

“We know how important biodiversity is for the communities of Dyfi Valley - particularly as Machynlleth was the first town in Wales to declare a ‘climate emergency’,” the health board said.

“Our own approach to ecology, biodiversity and the climate emergency has been right at the heart of the Ysbyty Bro Ddyfi development.

“Now this is not without its challenges given the age and condition of the current building as well as the constraints of the site - and sadly this has included the need to remove a number of trees at the front of the hospital so that essential construction and drainage work can take place that is essential for a hospital scheme that we know is much needed and long awaited in the town.

“But our ecology plan includes a number of replacement trees, additional landscaping across the hospital site, and the new sensory garden.

“We made sure that this formed part of our planning application, which set out in detail our Tree Protection Plan to ensure careful consideration was given to all trees on the hospital site.”