Sussex taxpayers' could foot a hefty European-imposed fine if steps to improve air quality are not taken.

While scientists say exposure to vehicle fumes can cause a range of respiratory conditions and reduce life expectancy, councils could also be slapped with huge fines if they do not meet European targets.

Campaigners have warned a failure to reduce pollution from cars and lorries on the county's congested roads will also lead to an “invisible health crisis” affecting tens of thousands of people.

It comes as the number of pollution alerts from roadside monitors in Brighton and Hove exceeded last year's figures - even with five months of the year still to go.

The localism bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, threatens to pass any EU-imposed fines directly to town halls, meaning Sussex taxpayers' could be left footing the bill.

To try and combat poor air quality, Brighton and Hove has an Air Quality Management Area stretching from Portslade to Brighton Marina and up to Old Shoreham Road and the Lewes Road corridor.

Yet, within this zone, checks carried out at the roadside confirm there are 20 roads which do not meet standards, some by more than 25%.

Transport cabinet member Ian Davey said: “Introducing devolved fines is making local authorities responsible for failures in national government's transport policy.

"Air quality has been a major problem in this city for years, which has not been taken seriously enough by the previous Conservative administration.

The top 20 nitrogen dioxide pollution hot spots in Brighton and Hove, and the percentage reduction required to meet European targets.

North Street, Brighton - 34%

Lewes Road (central), Brighton - 26%

Western Road, Brighton - 25%

Viaduct Terrace, Brighton - 21%

York Place, Brighton - 20%

Terminus Road, Brighton - 19%

Old Shoreham Road (lower), Brighton -19%

Queens Road (north), Brighton - 18%

London Road (west), Brighton - 17%

Marlborough Place, Brighton - 15%

Chatham Place, Brighton - 13%

St James's Street, Brighton - 7%

Hollingdean Road, Brighton - 7%

Ditchling Road (north), Brighton - 5%

New England Road, Brighton - 4%

Oxford Place, Brighton - 4%

Gloucester Place, Brighton - 4%

Grand Parade (north), Brighton - 3%

Lewes Road (north), Brighton - 2%

Buckingham Place, Brighton - 2%