The start of consultation over plans to add fluoride to Hull’s drinking water has been put on hold.
City councillors will wait for the outcome of a detailed report into engineering issues which would be faced by Yorkshire Water before deciding whether to embark on any consultation with neighbouring East Riding Council and the public.
Hull’s cabinet members also said they did not want to rush into a consultation with knowing more about the likely cost of the process.
Current estimates put the cost of physically converting the city’s drinking water network at between £1.6m and £2m with an annual operating cost of around £330,000.
Footing the bill would be the responsibility of the city council along with the cost of any feasibility studies and the consultation process.
An initial desktop survey carried out by Yorkshire Water has concluded it is technically feasible to make the switch.
However a more detailed study examining the engineering implications will now be carried out, subject to its as yet unknown cost being agreed by two cabinet members – health portfolio holder Gwen Lunn and deputy leader and finance portfolio Daren Hale.
He said: “The detailed study would be the start of a very long process which would require approval from the secretary of state to go forward.”
Cllr Hale said once the study had been completed there would be a “full consultation” with the public and other organisations, including local health bodies and the East Riding.
“The decision to go for consultation is only the first stage and it would have to come back to cabinet once the results of the study are known.”
Public opinion remains divided over the issue although Hull’s Clinical Commissioning Group has expressed support for fluoridation.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Councillor Alan Clark said he was uneasy over being asked to sign off a “blank cheque” to fund the consultation process at a time when budgets were being squeezed.
Councillor Terry Geraghty suggested a Brexit-style public referendum would be a better way of deciding the issue.
Councillor Helena Spencer said: “I am not confident we can go forward until we need to know how long it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost.”
She said she supported fluoridation and urged others of the same opinion to speak up.
“I know there are a lot of dentists and members of the public who are in favour but I am not hearing their voices,” she said.
Councillor Danny Brown, who chairs the council’s health scrutiny committee, said: “This is going to be one of the most important decisions this council has ever made.”