Plans for a new opera house in Guangzhou have been rekindled 2.5 years after running into controversy. The 800 million yuan (HK$755 million) project first hit difficulties when delegates to the municipal People's Congress argued the money would be better spent on schools and welfare for the unemployed and needy. The objections forced a postponement, and Guangzhou has since played down its determination to proceed with the project. However, on Wednesday the Guangzhou Planning Bureau convened a group of design experts to comment on nine proposed blueprints for the project. The experts also responded to opinions and questions solicited from members of the public. The meeting, details of which were published in local newspapers yesterday, is part of a calculated effort by the Guangzhou government to win over public support for the project. As such it stands in marked contrast to the secrecy surrounding Beijing's far more controversial National Theatre - a 2.7 billion yuan undertaking that will take four years to build. The National Theatre's critics contend it is too expensive and fear its futuristic, glass-and-titanium bubble design will clash with its surroundings, which include the Forbidden City. Guangzhou officials and design experts hail their planned opera house as an opportunity to construct an enduring municipal symbol. Zhao Bairen, a design professor at South China Engineering University and chairman of the committee that will select the winning design, was quoted as saying that Guangzhou's opera house must therefore be unique. Almost all the designs being considered by the committee are irregular in shape, and at least two resemble glass spacecraft. The opera house will have a relatively small seating capacity of 1,800, compared to the 2,300 seats planned for the National Theatre. In addition to cost concerns, a smaller venue is preferred because singers will not need amplification. According to experts, another reason for the modest scale is that with three other established theatres, the city cannot support another large one. Critics counter that this is precisely why it should not be built. However, one of the opera house's biggest backers is Mayor Lin Shusen. Mr Lin - who has presided over an ambitious, three-year construction spree that has transformed the city - believes the project will improve its image, attract high-calibre international performers and divert more tourists to Guangzhou, which lacks the profile of Beijing and Shanghai. Mr Lin's recent appointment as municipal party secretary should ensure the project enough backing over the next few years to see it through to completion.