CORONAVIRUS has made Winchester civic chiefs even more determined to build ‘Homes for Heroes’.

The lockdown has highlighted the importance of open space and inequalities in housing with many keyworkers living in substandard private sector accommodation, councillors were told by Gillian Knight, head of housing.

Ms Knight was outlining how the city council housing department has tackled the challenge posed by Covid-19.

She said the council had been talking to the NHS before the lockdown about housing for key workers but the crisis would focus minds.

She told the business and housing committee on Monday: “This is not an easy problem to solve but we need to lead by example and design new homes that promote health, resilience and wellbeing. Provide space for remote working, to include built in technology to assist with modern living, saving time on commuting and striking a better work-life balance.”

The council was committed to building new houses and work restarted in mid-May on projects: The Valley (77 units); Dolphin Hill in Twyford (2); Rowlings Road, Weeke (7) and Hookpit, Kings Worthy (35).

Because of coronavirus developers are trying to argue that providing affordable housing was less viable, something that had happened at Belmont Farm in Swanmore, the committee heard.

Around a dozen rough sleepers had been rehoused at the Wessex Hotel and at a formerA2 Dominion property on City Road. “We hope to be able to prevent people from returning to rough sleeping. It’s a challenge but a challenge we hope to meet. Bringing all the rough sleepers in was quite an achievement.” They had been helped by outreach workers from the Trinity Centre, the Nightshelter and Two Saints.

But social distancing meant that the shelter on Jewry Street had had to cut its beds from 17 to nine.

Because of tenant fears of Covid-19 much routine maintenance had got behind and there was no a backlog of 191 gas checks.

The meeting heard that the economic impact of the crisis was unclear.

Strategic director Richard Botham said the estimates were that the council would face a deficit of between £8m-£12m.

Income plummeted with empty car parks, the Guildhall closed, commercial tenants struggling to pay rent.

The usual car park income of £120,000 collapsed to almost nothing although it has been recovering, said Mr Botham. Last week it was £30,000, up from £20,000 and £18,000 in the previous two weeks.

A big decision would be how much of the £12m reserves could be used. But Mr Botham said that would undermine the maintenance of council assets.

Cllr Neil Cutler, cabinet member for finance and risk, said: “There are going to be very hard decisions taken over the next month or two, in order to bridge the gap of £11 million at the moment. We need to be clear this is a huge undertaking to deal with,” saying there would likely be cuts in spending.

Cllr Eleanor Bell said village shops had risen to the challenge. In Hursley they have erected gazebos outside in the street and laid out stock so customers do not have to enter small premises.

“The highways department have turned a blind eye but that will not last. The gazebos have worked wonderfully and has made a huge difference.”

Meanwhile Hampshire Chamber of Commerce Business Survey reports 70% suffering a Covid-related business downturn involving lower demand and cancelled contracts; 60% say biggest challenge will be restoring lack of orders, with half forecasting cashflow problems; 60% - have furloughed at least some workforce, with 15% furloughing all staff. Around 22.5% had to close completely for the time being because of the lack of work.