SOUTHAMPTON and five other heavily-polluted areas are pressing Prime Minister Theresa May to tackle the issue of Britain's toxic air.

The city has joined forces with London mayor Sadiq Khan and civic chiefs in other pollution hot-spots in a bid to persuade the government to take urgent action to improve air quality.

In a joint letter to Mrs May they claim several measures are needed to cut the number of premature deaths caused by traffic fumes.

These include making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions in the wake of the recent Volkswagen scandal, imposing national minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles and introducing a Clean Air Act that will update existing legislation.

The letter also calls for the right to clean air to be enshrined in law after the UK leaves the EU.

It follows the launch of the Daily Echo's Breathe Easy campaign, which aims to highlight the main causes of the problem and analyse what is being done to tackle it.

Pollution is responsible for 110 deaths in Southampton each year and is estimated to cost the local NHS an annual £50 million.

Southampton, London and the other four cites - Birmingham, Derby, Leeds and Nottingham - are warning that the £3 million allocated to local authorities to clean up their air is “woefully inadequate”.

In their letter to Mrs May they also stress that air pollution is not a problem councils can solve alone.

Cllr Simon Letts, leader of Southampton City Council said: “The quality of the air we breathe is an issue which affects everybody that lives in the city.

"We can only act on this issue with government support and along with the leaders of other affected areas I have written today to the Prime Minister requesting that action to improve air quality be prioritised.”

Sadiq Khan said poor air quality was creating a national health emergency.

He added: "As city leaders, we are doing what we can to tackle this problem but we are fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. Lasting progress will only be made if national government matches the ambitious action we are taking. The time for urgent action is now.”

The government said it was "firmly committed" to improving the UK's air quality.

A spokesman said: "We have committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, support greener transport schemes and set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones.

"In addition, in the Autumn Statement, we announced a further £290 million to support electric vehicles, low emission buses and taxis, and alternative fuels."