Southampton’s civic leader says the organisation behind plans to put fluoride into Hampshire’s tap water is stalling until after next year’s General Election.
City council boss Simon Letts says he believes Public Health England (PHE) will see if a new Health Secretary is in place before deciding whether to continue with the plans.
As previously reported, the proposals to put the chemical into the water of 200,000 households in Southampton, Rownhams, Eastleigh, Totton and Netley are currently in limbo.
The plans were first put forward by the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) for south central England in 2008, before the body was scrapped last year and legislation changed to give councils final responsibility over whether to introduce the chemical.
PHE took over the plans last April and stated its intention to carry on with them in the face of fierce opposition from campaigners.
But the SHA failed to complete paperwork with Southern Water before the handover, with both Councillor Letts and county council leader Roy Perry saying they believe there is no scheme as a result.
And if it falls to them to make a decision, Councillor Perry says the council would not look to introduce fluoride after a previous vote against it, while Cllr Letts says he believes a referendum would give residents in Southampton the final say.
Since then PHE has not made a final decision on whether to press on with the plans, with county lawyers preparing a legal challenge if they decide to go ahead.
Labour city boss Cllr Letts said: “My suspicion is that nothing will happen until after the General Election next year, so they can ask whoever the Health Secretary is to introduce it.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable, I think they should have come to a final decision by now whether to introduce it or not.
“Our position is that we will only introduce it if we have a referendum and that’s what people want. I think PHE should bite the bullet and fund the referendum on that basis. The current situation is unfair on residents, we need to get a result one way or another.”
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis expressed the same view at a public meeting in Southampton on October 4, saying: “They are playing for time. They are hoping that with a General Election there might be another change, and I am sure that if there is a change of Government they will be arguing that the powers taken away from the SHA should be given to undemocratic quangos like themselves.”
A spokesman for PHE said: “This ‘belief’ is incorrect. We hope to clarify next steps regarding this matter shortly.”