THE Government has unveiled plans to avoid a repeat of the costly legal battle that blighted plans to add fluoride to Hampshire’s water supply.

Health bosses ran up a £350,000 legal bill fighting a High Court challenge to their controversial decision to back the scheme to put the chemical in tap water delivered to homes and businesses in Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams .

South Central Strategic Health Authority last year finally defeated the judicial review brought by Southampton mum Gerri Milner, but the process delayed the project by 18 months.

Ministers yesterday published proposals on how to do a better job of consulting residents when control of the thorny issue is handed to local councils once SHAs are scrapped next spring.

The Department of Health said that more clear guidelines on how consultations should be carried out would make judicial review claims by opponents of fluoridation less likely.

Ms Milner brought her case after the SHA board unanimously approved fluoridation in 2009, despite opposition from 72 per cent of people who responded to its consultation.

Ministers said setting up a fluoridation scheme in Southampton had proved to be a “time consuming and costly process”, and want to ensure future projects do not become mired in legal problems.

The Government said Southampton’s water would be fluoridated “in the next few years”, adding to the more than five million people in the UK already drinking fluoridated water, in areas including Birmingham, Newcastle and Crewe.

Handing responsibility to councils will “increase the democratic accountability” of the process, ministers said.

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See links to government documents on the consultation