No decision on the fluoridation of water in Hampshire can be taken until next year because a legal bid to block it has been delayed again, the Daily Echo can reveal.
High Court hearings challenging the way health bosses gave the controversial plans for Southampton and the surrounding area the green light have been put back until January.
The first part of judicial review proceedings – an appeal against a judge’s refusal to examine whether South Central Strategic Health Authority should have looked at more evidence against fluoridation – had originally been due to be heard in November.
But that has now been delayed to form part of a two-day hearing also incorporating a full probe of whether more attention should have been paid to public opinion during the consultation.
The SHA had said it didn’t want to have both an appeal and full hearing at once because it could mean wasting taxpayers’ cash preparing a legal case it didn’t need to.
But last night bosses, who have set aside £400,000 to fight the challenge and have consistently argued they met or exceeded all their legal requirements, insisted they are happy to have the hearing in one go because it speeds up the legal process.
The scheme has already been on hold for 14 months – the judicial review was launched just four months after the SHA board unanimously approved the plans despite 72 per cent of affected residents who voiced their opinion during the consultation objecting.
An SHA spokeswoman told the Daily Echo they welcomed the judge’s decision to combine the appeal and full hearing.
She said: “Prior to this, the SHA argued that permission should be dealt with separately because of the cost implications. What the SHA did not expect, however, was the delay in a hearing date being set.
“Indeed, the judge deciding that the permission hearing should be heard at the same time as the substantive hearing expressed concern about the delay in the listing of this case for hearing.
“Consequently, the SHA is happy with a joint hearing.”
But chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation, Stephen Peckham, said he doesn’t believe the SHA should even fight the review.
As revealed by the Daily Echo, the Government is to hand powers over fluoridation to councils after it scraps SHAs in 2012. It is also looking at the rules over how consultations are conducted, and whether more weight should be given to people’s opinions.
Dr Peckham said: “I can’t see any logic in holding a judicial review based on discussions of regulations that the Department of Health seems to have under review anyway.
“It seems totally crazy that in spite of that they’re continuing with the scheme and spending nearly half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money fighting the judicial review. It is just becoming an absolute nonsense.”