HAMPSHIRE’S top politician is urging the new health secretary to step in to stop fluoride being added to the water supply of almost 200,000 homes.

It is the latest salvo in the battle by campaigners to stop a scheme,which health bosses say will improve children’s teeth in Southampton.

County Council leader, Cllr Ken Thornber wants Tory Andrew Lansley to force South Central Strategic Health Authority to scrap its plans.

He says the cost of fluoridation – including £400,000 set aside by the unelected NHS quango to fight a High Court legal challenge of its decision – is “nonsense” at a time when the public sector is feeling budget cuts.

In a letter to the health secretary Cllr Thornber said: “In addition to the lack of accountability demonstrated by the SHA there is a further issue about the use of public funding at a time when we are all facing significant financial challenges.

“The cost of taking this proposal forward has significantly exceeded the initial estimates of the consultation exercise, and a further £400,000 has been set aside to fight the judicial review.

“Despite repeated requests… the SHA has not been able to confirm the final costs of implementing this programme.”

During the public consultation, 10,000 people gave their views on the plans to add fluoride to tap water delivered to two-thirds of Southampton, as well as parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.

Of those from the affected area, 72 per cent of those who responded opposed the scheme, but the SHA’s 12 board members unanimously voted to approve it because they said they were convinced by arguments of the health benefits.

That has led to calls, backed by this newspaper, for residents to be given a referendum on the plans, with the public being given the final say on whether they should go ahead.

In January, Mr Lansley joined those expressing concerns about the decision when he told the Daily Echo that the SHA’s public consultation was “not real”.

Cllr Thornber said he hopes that scepticism means the health secretary will step in to the row now he’s in office.

Read the full letter from Ken Thornber.

He said: “I think he would be loathe for a further consultation be carried out given the economic climate.

“He could and should say that he’s not convinced of the medical and dental arguments, that he believes that this money could be better spent elsewhere and in the circumstances believes that the whole programme should be shelved.”

Since the decision, made in February last year, campaigners have taken a 15,000-name petition to Downing Street calling on former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make the authority change its mind.

And Southampton resident Geraldine Milner has lodged a request for a judicial review against the decision, arguing ministers assured Parliament when passing legislation around fluoridation that schemes could only go ahead where there is local support. That case is unlikely to take place before the end of this year, with an initial hearing taking place in November, appealing against a judge’s decision to refuse to look at whether the SHA ignored evidence against fluoridation.

He described the authority’s process as “unimpeachable”.

The SHA has repeatedly insisted it met or exceeded all that was required of it by the legislation.

The delays in the legal system mean it is highly unlikely fluoridation could be in place before the summer of 2012, by which time the new coalition is reported to have decided all SHAs will have been scrapped.