THE opening of Winchester's new leisure centre will be delayed.

An open forum heard how the coronavirus crisis has slowed construction work.

But builders Wilmott Dixon have "impressed" Winchester City Council with their continuity throughout the pandemic.

Strategic director Chas Bradfield said: "We are so impressed with how Willmott Dixon has kept the construction going through what has been one of the toughest periods in decades – definitely the toughest in my lifetime.

"There are still a number of variables to take into account, particularly how social distancing rules will impact the workers themselves. When we know more, we will say more."

Head of programme Andy Hickman added: "The main concern is the fluidity of the crisis – how long will it last?

"Willmott Dixon are looking if they can move certain aspects of the work around help in terms of the inevitable delay."

A new opening date will be set when the impact of Covid-19 is clearer.

Local residents were invited to question to city council representatives, the builders and the operator, Everybody Active.

One person said: "Can I ask for the roadworks to be clearly advertised, and for the communication between the council and residents improved?"

They added that lorry drivers are often entering the Highcliffe estate and causing traffic problems.

The next stage of roadworks in relation to the Garrison Ground site will be discussed at the next cabinet meeting.

Emma Back of Winchester Sport Art and Leisure Trust (SALT) asked: "When will clubs and those interested in community hire be able to see into the longer term? I know a few are eager to sort deals."

Alison, a spokesperson for Everyone Active responded: "It depends on how the pandemic hits some of these clubs. The delay in building works won't delay our conversations with them, however.

"We want to support these clubs in their transition to the brand new facility."

The forum heard that if social distancing rules are kept in place for a long time, they will be easy to implement in the new building.

Its corridors and rooms are far wider than those at River Park Leisure Centre.

Residents in villages just outside Winchester will benefit from a revised public transport schedule to help them travel too and from the centre.

The city council is also developing a new cycling and walking plan across the district.