London is to get its own office in Brussels after years of being unrepresented at the heart of Europe.

The lack of a strategic body for the capital since the demise of the Greater London Council has meant that, unlike other leading EU capitals, London lacks facilities in Brussels to help win European funding for major building and infrastructure projects.

Now the Association of London Authorities, which represents Labour boroughs, boosted by Labour's strong showing in the local elections, has decided to open an office and will be looking for premises next month.

Ian Hughes, the ALA's European officer, said: 'It will make London a major player in Europe. When draft directives are being discussed, it's important for London to have a voice. At the moment that isn't happening.'

Other cities and regions have already set up offices in the Belgian capital to keep them informed about proposed new legislation and funding opportunities.

Offices already exist to represent the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, the East Midlands, Devon and Cornwall, and the East Midlands.

Birmingham City Council, which opened a Brussels office in 1985, says the city has since benefited from millions of pounds of Euro-pean grants.

Mark Reed, senior Euro-pean officer, said: 'The office helps us tremendously. It keeps us informed about everything going on in Europe.'

He said the office had played a key role in securing pounds 50m of the pounds 180m required to build the International Convention Centre in Bir-mingham. The centre has hosted prestigious events such as a European summit on Maastricht in 1992.

The complex prompted neighbouring developments of shops, leisure facilities and offices. The application for funds for the centre took a year to be approved, during which time the Birmingham office in Brussels played a crucial part in lobbying officials and politicians.

'Without the European money, the centre would never have been built,' Mr Reed said.

He added that the office was also an important source of news about European initiatives. 'If we know of an innovative idea we can use the office to get invaluable information about funding.'

Despite the lack of a Brussels base, the ALA and the Tory-dominated London Boroughs Association have obtained pounds 55m over the next three years for deprived areas in east London. But the new office is expected to help boost London's effectiveness in obtaining money.

The ALA, which has backed the idea of a London office almost since it was formed in 1983, has had its hand strengthened by the local elections. Before, 14 of the 32 boroughs were Labour. Now 17 are Labour controlled and at least 4 of the hung councils are likely to be run by Labour administrations.

Mr Hughes said: 'It does not help London's case if, as now, the Devon and Corwall region is seen as more active in Europe than we are.'

(Photograph omitted)