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The Grey District Council has deferred a government directive that it add fluoride to the Greymouth drinking water supply.
The Government changed the rules in 2021, removing the decision-making on fluoridation from local councils. Last year, the Ministry of Health advised the Grey council it was required to fluoridate its water supplies.
However, councillors this week voted to seek feedback from the community, thereby deferring spending the required $900,000 on installing a fluoridation plant.
Group manager operations Aaron Haymes told councillors earlier this week staff had pushed back on the initial request.
"We said we believe the community here shouldn’t have to pay for that infrastructure because it is going to be handed over to the new water entity to manage [under three waters changes]," Mr Haymes said.
However, he conceded, "we don’t think we can hold off for another two years. We think we have to commit to installing the plant".
Blackball water is exempt from fluoridation as the population threshold of 500 means only the greater Greymouth area will require the plant.
Mayor Tania Gibson was not pleased.
"This is getting mandated on to us again by central Government and our community hasn’t been consulted. I don’t believe we have to accept it through this process."
Cr Jack O’Connor agreed, saying the issue had not been brought up in the recent consultation round and "it would appear like we are hiding something — we are not at all.’.
Cr Rex MacDonald asked about the financial and reputational risk if the council defied the government directive.
Mr Haymes cautioned there would probably be "some type of intervention,"and "there will definitely be some reputational consequences."
Mayor Gibson asked pointedly whether that was from the government point of view, or from the community who haven’t had a say.
Asked by Cr Robert Mallinson if the council was acting legally, chief executive Paul Morris said it was, adding that local government once had the power to determine whether water was fluoridated, "until it was taken away and given to the director-general of health.’.
"You do have an opportunity to gauge your community’s feelings — that’s feedback that can be given to the Ministry of Health."
By Meg Fulford