Council pushes ahead with fluoridation, despite High Court ruling

The new Whangarei water treatment plant in Whau Valley, Whangarei.

Fluoridation for Whangārei’s Whau Valley water treatment plant will be going ahead, the district council says, in spite of a High Court ruling on the government mandated introduction.
Photo: Northern Advocate / Tania Whyte

Whangārei District Council is continuing with fluoridation plans, despite a High Court ruling that a national directive to do so was unlawful.

However, retired Northland dentist and longtime anti-fluoride campaigner Dr Lawrie Brett is calling on the council to halt the $4.5 million-plus drinking water fluoride implementation process in the wake of the court decision.

The High Court decision said then director-general of health Sir Ashley Bloomfield’s July 2022 directive for WDC and 13 other councils to fluoridate their water was unlawful as it failed to consider the Bill of Rights Act.

WDC confirmed this week it would continue with mandated fluoridation for drinking water supplies.

Group manager infrastructure Jim Sephton said the council was still waiting for formal notification from the Ministry of Health/ Manatū Hauora in the wake of Friday’s High Court decision.

However, he said he understood the ministry’s position was the High Court decision had not changed its direction on mandated water fluoridation.

The Ministry of Health/ Manatū Hauora did not specifically respond when asked whether the High Court decision meant WDC’s order to fluoridate would be cancelled.

A Ministry of Health/ Manatū Hauora spokesperson said it had received Friday’s High Court decision and was considering it.

“The decision pertains to the process required to be used in deciding to issue a direction,” the spokesperson said.

“The judgement is not about the public health merits of fluoridation or whether fluoridation can be justified under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990,” she said.

Brett said continuing with the costly implementation of water fluoridation was a waste of ratepayer and taxpayer money.

WDC baulked at the government’s mandate in a divided and fractious early October council meeting.

But later, at a 26 October meeting, the council committed to fluoridation, approving an extra unbudgeted $2.9 million towards the $4.5m fluoridation costs, on top of $1.6m already put aside.

The Ministry of Health would in turn fund $4.4m of this.

It also awarded the $3.7m contract for the fluoridation construction at the same time.

Majority support for decision

Mayor Vince Cocurullo and Deputy Mayor Phil Halse were among all but one of the 13 WDC politicians present on 26 October who voted in favour of the additional funding and the fluoridation construction contract.

Councillor Gavin Benney was against doing so, while councillor Paul Yovich was absent.

The politicians also decided to write to the incoming government seeking urgent clarification on whether it supported the fluoridation mandate. The new government has still not been formed.

Sephton said after that meeting the council would not be seeking an injunction to stop the fluoridation’s implementation. Its legal advice indicated any attempt to do so would prove expensive and likely be contested by the Ministry of Health.

He said the council faced up to $200,000 in fines for not fluoridating in the face of the July 2022 directive, and further fines of $10,000 a day during which the offence occurred.

Friday’s High Court decision was issued in the case of Christchurch-based natural health lobby group New Health New Zealand vs the Director General of Health.

Brett said it was a victory for common sense.

The $4.5m GST exclusive fluoridation cost for WDC’s drinking water does not include the $1m spent to fluoridate the council’s Poroti drinking water during the plant’s upgrade.

Fluoridation will also cost $100,000 a year to run.

Under the government WDC directive, fluoridation for the Whau Valley water treatment plant must be in place by the middle of next year and by the end of 2024 for Ruakākā, Maunu and Waipū. It is required for the Poroti water supply by June 2026.

WDC politicians on 26 October, in spite of proceeding with the fluoridation go-ahead process, also decided to ask Whangārei residents what they thought on adding fluoride to the council’s public water supplies.

The process for doing this will be worked out at a 23 November council meeting.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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