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Rethink over fluoride referendum

Ministers have insisted detailed consultation to avoid the risk of further costly judicial reviews of decisions

Southampton may hold a referendum to give local voters the chance to block the fluoridation of tap water – the city council's new leader has suggested.
 
The cash-strapped authority had hinted that it lacked the money to stage the detailed public consultation required to overturn the decision.
 
But a political scandal – triggering the sudden resignation of Richard Williams, its Labour leader – has now produced a rethink.
 
New leader Simon Letts, speaking to his local paper, said he was 'personally persuaded of the health arguments for fluoridation'.
 
But he added: “I am certainly in favour of the public having the chance to choose and, should the decision be the council’s, then we would hold a public referendum.'
 
Public Health England (PHE) has indicated it wishes to press ahead with fluoridation, the policy of the now-axed South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA).
 
However, the government has given local councils the power to block the move – aimed at cutting tooth decay – if it can prove there is public backing.
 
Ministers have insisted some sort of detailed consultation must be held, to avoid the risk of further costly judicial reviews of decisions.
 
A High Court legal challenge to the SHA’s decision ran up a legal bill of £350,000 and put fluoridation on hold for at least 18 months.
 
Meanwhile, campaign group Hampshire Against Fluoridation is believed to be planning a fresh legal challenge against PHE.
 
Under the original plan, fluoridation was expected to be up and running in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams in 2014.
 
In 2012, Southampton council voted against plans to add fluoride to tap water, following a 6,000-strong petition against the scheme.
 
Mr Letts’ predecessor, Richard Williams, resigned in April, after an investigation into his conduct found he had misled the public.

By Rob Merrick, Parliamentary Correspondent
 

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