The giant cranes and earth movers at the site of the controversial National Theatre in Beijing have remained idle for five months as debate rages at the top of the Government over whether to build it. China's leaders last year chose a French design of a translucent glass and titanium bubble nestling on a lake, with four auditoria and 6,000 seats. Designed by architect Paul Andreu, it is costing 4.7 billion yuan (HK$4.3 billion) and preparatory work began on April 1. But a storm of opposition from Chinese architects, engineers and senior officials persuaded the Government to suspend the project from July 1 and order a feasibility study with wide-ranging consultations. There was no sign of life yesterday at the site, on the west side of the Great Hall of the People and guarded by security men at its three entrances. They said construction had stopped on July 1, the workers were sent to other projects and they had no idea when work would resume. The work has left a giant hole about 40 metres deep, with many of the one-storey grey brick houses south of the site demolished and their inhabitants moved elsewhere. The ground is covered in rubble, plastic bags, sofas and pieces of wood. A spokesman for the Proprietary Committee for the project, named Zhang, said discussions had already finished. 'The original design has been slightly amended to reduce the area and cost,' he said. 'We pay great attention to the opinion of experts but the original design will not be changed. Now we have given the plan to the State Development Planning Commission and will wait for them to approve it. 'This is a very important project. It is hard to say when it will be approved. We can only resume work after we have obtained this approval.' Commission officials were unavailable for comment. The debate has been conducted out of the public eye because the Government has banned the media from reporting on the subject. One architect opposed to the project said he had submitted his ideas to the central Government. 'It has been discussed many times and there are different opinions. It will be up to the senior leaders to make the decision,' he said. 'Opposition among architects, historians and the intellectual community remains very strong. But in the past, the Government has often chosen to ignore such opposition.' Those in favour of Mr Andreu's avant-garde design say that it is new and a symbol of China's reform and open-door policies. Opponents say it is too expensive, hard to maintain and that a Chinese design should have been selected.