A new plan being considered by the government could save the embattled Sunbeam Theatre. Democratic Party lawmaker Kam Nai-wai said the plan included the government paying part of the rent. Mr Kam was speaking after a meeting yesterday with the undersecretary for home affairs, Florence Hui Hiu-fai. 'The government would consider ways to support the operation of the theatre through seeking sponsorship and appropriate subsidy schemes,' the Home Affairs Bureau said. The theatre, a centre for Cantonese opera productions, faces closure because of decreasing audiences and the likelihood of a rent rise after the current lease expires on January 31. If it closes, the last performances would be held during the Lunar New Year. The theatre pays HK$200,000 a month in rent, while rents for nearby buildings and shopping complexes are much higher. The rate expected under a new lease was in the region of HK$400,000, Mr Kam said. The plan would hinge entirely on the government and the property owner reaching an agreement. 'If the rent is too high, the government will be unable to justify the proposed subsidy to taxpayers,' Mr Kam said. Even if the negotiations over rent failed, it would not spell the end of large-scale Cantonese opera productions. Mr Kam outlined some possible alternatives, including relocating many productions to Sha Tin and Tuen Mun town halls through 'venue partnership schemes', as well as granting opera productions priority venue hiring in four other public arenas - the Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong City Hall, Kwai Tsing Theatre and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The government is also considering projects to increase the number of opera venues available. These include the HK$171 million conversion of the Yau Ma Tei Theatre and Red Brick Building into a cultural activity centre, and the construction of additional venues at the Ko Shan Theatre and in the Xiqu Centre of the West Kowloon Cultural District. Mr Kam welcomed the ongoing consultation between the government and the theatre's landlord and he encouraged opera companies to take advantage of the alternate venues to hold productions. 'We cannot rely only on these solutions,' said Mr Kam, noting that the Yau Ma Tei project was not scheduled to be completed until 2011. 'The current plan is too piecemeal and it only concerns itself with the short-term future of the opera industry.'