Brent Council rejected calls to spend an extra £700,000 on planting trees in the borough but could commit funding to tackling the climate emergency.

Its cabinet acknowledged a recommendation from a scrutiny committee that funds generated by the sale of cemetery space could be used to support the environment.

A report by a task group examining budget proposals for 2020/21 suggested the additional £700,000 could be spent on tree planting and maintenance in the borough – an idea backed by environmental campaign group Brent Trees.

A spokeswoman for Brent Trees addressed the council’s cabinet to outline the various health and environmental benefits of additional tree planting.

This included the positive impact on climate change, an improvement in air quality and improvement in residents’ wellbeing.

She said it would help the borough become “the cleanest and greenest in London” and criticised the council for its hitherto approach to trees, suggesting that they have “never been a priority”.

However, the council pointed to its strained financial position – highlighted by further cuts and a council tax hike – and stressed that extra money should be used to support “frontline” services such as children’s services or adult social care.

Cllr Krupa Sheth, responsible for the environment at Brent Council, said she appreciates the need for more trees in the region, describing it as a “priority” for the administration.

But she said ringfencing this funding for this specific cause would “aggravate” the council’s financial state which faces “millions of cuts each year”.

She was supported by the council’s deputy leader, Cllr Margaret McLennan, who, despite being a “self-confessed tree-hugger”, said she had to be “aware” of the need to protect statutory services.

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said the council would dedicate any underspend at the end of March 2020 to “dealing with the climate emergency”.

“This gives that assurance that any money left over will be used to help start this process,” he said.

In a statement, Brent Trees criticised the council's decision and questioned its commitment to improving the borough’s environment.

It said: “We are extremely disappointed that the suggestion from the budget scrutiny committee to spend £700,000 on trees was rejected out of hand by Brent Council's cabinet.

“It is particularly frustrating that Cllr Krupa Sheth, the councillor with responsibility for the environment, argued against this money being allocated to trees.

“Cllr Sheth appears to live in a parallel universe where Brent is responding well to the climate crisis and is oblivious to the anger of residents at the degradation of Brent's mature tree stock.”