CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce fluoridation in Hampshire could be dead in the water.
Council chiefs in Southampton and Hampshire believe that there isn’t actually a scheme in place to introduce the chemical into the drinking water of about 200,000 people.
And if the Government confirms their suspicions, then the plans to introduce fluoridation – and the bitter, five-year-long battle against it – could be over.
The scheme has proven hugely controversial since the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) first unveiled the plans to put fluoride into water in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
The plans, which would affect around 200,000 people, were unanimously approved in 2009 despite widespread opposition, which has continued over the following years.
The SHA was scrapped earlier this year, and its successor body, Public Health England (PHE) announced that the scheme would go ahead as previously agreed.
But, following legal advice, Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council now believe that the scheme does not even exist anymore.
Their advice, from lawyer Phillip Coppell QC, is that contractual agreements between the SHA and Southern Water were not completed during the hand-over of responsibilities in March.
And despite asking Public Health England for evidence that the agreements were completed, they have not received any.
County council leader Roy Perry, above, said: “We have a legal argument which suggests that the appropriate contractual arrangements were not in place by April 1 and have yet to receive evidence to the contrary.
“The advice from our QC is that if there is not a scheme in place, Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council can decide if there should be one.
“People are generally against it, and we don’t think Public Health England actually finally determined the scheme, so the whole issue could just be dead.”
The leaders of the two councils have jointly written to the Government about the contractual arrangements of the scheme.
Cllr Perry added that if their advice was confirmed by the Government, he “didn’t see the need” for a referendum as it was clear that public opinion was against a scheme.
City council chief Simon Letts, below, has previously pledged that a referendum would be held to determine the future of fluoridation in Southampton, if the final say belonged to the council.
But that plan may change if the council is confirmed as the decisionmaking body – and the scheme could be scrapped without a referendum.
He said: “We are writing to the Government to confirm whether the legal advice we have received is an accurate reflection of the situation and as soon as we have that confirmation we will make an announcement.
“We think that the Cabinet here and the county council will be the decision making bodies but we are making sure we have got confirmation before we move forward.”
The news has been welcomed by anti-fluoride campaigners.
John Spottiswoode, chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation, said: “I very much hope that this is the case, because that is clearly the logical situation – if there is no scheme, there is no fluoridation added to our water.
“Hopefully this will be the end of the fluoridation threat to Southampton and Hampshire.
“I am amazed that Public Health when it isn’t wanted by anyone.”
Fellow campaigner Professor Stephen Peckham added: “I certainly welcome this and I think that the position that the county and city councils are taking is the correct one.”
A spokesman for Public Health England said: “Following the public consultation process and subsequent judicial review, South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) was in discussion with Southern Water in relation to agreeing the terms of a legal agreement up to the time the SHA was abolished on March 31.
“The legal agreement was not signed by that date and the relevant functions of SHAs passed to the Secretary of State, which includes entering into fluoridation arrangements.
PHE is continuing to review its position in relation to the scheme and we cannot therefore at this stage provide a view.