THE long-running row over putting fluoride into the drinking water of 200,000 Hampshire residents is heading for a court showdown, the Daily Echo can reveal.
Council chiefs are launching a legal challenge to the controversial scheme that could see the plan killed off in the High Court.
Plans to put fluoride into the tap water of homes in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams were given the go-ahead in 2009.
The plans, which were initiated by the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA), sparked fierce resistance from campaigners.
They say there are unanswered questions over the health issues around drinking fluoride in tap water and that the people affected should be the ones to decide whether it is introduced or not.
The SHA, which was axed by the Government last year, had always argued introducing it would benefit public health and its successor organisation Public Health England (PHE) had vowed to plough on with the plans.
But following legal advice, Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry and Southampton City Council boss Simon Letts believe the scheme no longer exists due to a failure to hand over vital documents from the SHA to PHE.
They have been left waiting for five months to find out what the Government and PHE’s appraisal of the situation is – and now they have been given a response in top level discussions between the leaders and PHE’s chief executive Duncan Selbie.
After taking their own legal advice Cllr Letts said PHE chiefs have told them that although they agree paperwork was not completed they still believe the fluoridation scheme does exist.
And with neither side willing to budge they are now set for a legal battle.
Cllr Letts said: “There are two legal views about fluoridation. Until those legal points are tested in a court we will be no further forward.
“Discussions are still ongoing so I don’t know in which court it will be resolved, it could potentially go to the High Court.
“But until there is a decision there will be no fluoride.
“At the very least this has given us time to assess all of our options and even if a court eventually rules against us I have already told PHE that a referendum should be held to determine whether it happens or not.”
Cllr Perry was unavailable for comment.
A spokesman for PHE would not confirm the threat of legal action, saying instead: “PHE is committed to working with partners on the key issue of oral health improvement, including the role of water fluoridation.
“PHE continues to give full and careful consideration to all the relevant factors relating to water fluoridation in Southampton and south west Hampshire and is still considering its position in relation to the scheme.”