13 Jul 2009

Hampshire: Minister refuses to back calls for referendum on water issue

Denham says no to public fluoride vote
By Matt Smith
matt.smith@dailyecho.co.uk For up-to-the-minute news and information - dailyecho.co.uk
SOUTHAMPTON MP and Cabinet minister John Denham has refused to hack calls for a public vote on whether fluoride should be added to Hampshire tap water.
The newly promoted Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said a referendum, which is supported by the Daily Echo, was not the way forward.
He said more "effective opinion polling" was needed rather than a vote that could open the floodgates for similar polls on every "controversial issue".
But the MP for Itchen said health bosses needed to prove they had public support to add fluoride to the tap water of nearly 200,000 homes in Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams or scrap the scheme.
More than 10,000 people had their say during the 14-week public consultation last year, with 72 per cent of responses from those in the affected area opposing the scheme.
In a separate phone poll of 2,000 people, 38 per cent said they were against fluoridation, compared to 32 per cent in favour of it.
Mr Denham, who had already written to the strategic health authority (SHA) urging it to put its decision on hold, said: "I've never disguised the fact that I'm personally in favour of fluoridation but there are some issues where you can't proceed until you have got public confidence." Of referenda, he said: "I don't say they should never happen but I'm not keen on them.
"They are pretty expensive and if you do it on one issue you will be under pres-
sure do it on every single controversial issue."
"I prefer at the moment to keep the pressure on the SHA to pause their plans for implementation and make renewed efforts to win public confidence for this. I think if they do that there maybe be many much cheaper and easier ways, through effective opinion polling and so on, to establish public support and that's where they should put their efforts for the moment."
The SHA insists it followed required legal guidelines before making its decision, but campaigners now argue the only fair way of allowing fluoridation to go forward is if there is a majority in a public vote. Those calls have been backed by some of the area's high-profile MPs and councillors
Hampshire Against Fluoridation has already collected more than 15,000 names on a petition calling on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step in and force the SHA to reconsider its decision.

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