THE city needs fixing and Novocastrians must accept change, including possible removal of the inner-city rail line, to allow renewal to happen, a public forum heard yesterday.
Representatives of public and private organisations with the power to guide such change addressed an audience of about 200 people at Newcastle Panthers.
The Hunter Business Chamber organised the Newcastle city revitalisation forum.
Chamber president Karen Howard said that Newcastle in 2008 was a city in decay and investment in public infrastructure was needed.
The GPT Group's retail project director, Philip Heaney, spoke about his company's proposed $650 million redevelopment of the central business district.
"We do understand this longing in the community about fixing this damn problem," Mr Heaney said of the city's dwindling prospects.
He said GPT's project provided an opportunity for a new city centre, but it was impossible with the present transport arrangements, including inner-city rail.
He was challenged by Save Our Rail campaigner Joan Dawson on why the rail line had to go.
Mr Heaney said: "The bottom line is the railway line is not worth keeping, it's not sustainable."
The audience applauded Mrs Dawson and Mr Heaney.
GPT's view was supported by another speaker, Professor Steffen Lehmann, of the University of Newcastle.
Professor Lehmann said Newcastle was moving a 21st century population around on a 19th century heavy rail system.
A better option was to convert the rail line between Newcastle and Wickham to a green corridor for pedestrians and cyclists and invest in bus services.
He said GPT's project was a fantastic opportunity that the city would not want to lose but regardless, a vision was needed.
"It's not about one developer or one railway line of two-kilometre length. It's about the big picture for Newcastle," he said.
GPT's project could be the catalyst for other projects, Hunter developer Jeff McCloy told the forum.
"What we need to do, I think, is encourage the likes of GPT . . . who have a plan in mind, who have money, who want to invest, to give them assistance," he said.
Mr McCloy owns numerous inner-city properties.
He said he would halt investment on projects such as redevelopment of the Lucky Country hotel site in Hunter Street until the future of GPT's project was known.
GPT says its plan may not go ahead if the rail line stays.