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LONDON-Whitbread has announced it will double the size of its David Lloyd Leisure fitness business to 100 clubs over the next five years in a £500 million investment programme. The move will maintain its position as Britain’s biggest fitness operator.

David Lloyd’s original chain of 14 clubs cost Whitbread £200 million in 1995. It has steadily expanded its operation at a cost of between £7 million and £12 million and now has 48 large clubs and 250,000 members. Whitbread has also signed up 50,000 members for its Marriott hotels health club.

The move to step up the number of centres came a day after Virgin Active, Sir Richard Branson’s gym business, raised £100 million to increase its holdings by an additional 17. Other major rivals include Fitness First with around 220,000 members, Holmes Place with 180,000 and Esporta with 120,000. With eight quoted companies in the sector, fears are being voiced that the market could be coming saturated. Should the economy take a nose-dive, club memberships are one of the first things the public gets rid of.

Whitbread counters the saturation argument, claiming its membership is still growing at 25% a year. Stewart Miller, David Lloyd managing director, says, ‘There is clear room for expansion. Whitbread plans to open 52 more clubs, on top of the existing 48,’ Eight new clubs are due to open next year including Fulham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Manchester. The company denied it was funding the expansion through the sale of its restaurant business, which includes Cafe Rouge and Pizza Hut.

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