The UK's largest independent health club operator, Bannatyne Fitness, has unveiled its expansion plans for 2003.

The Darlington-based firm will open new centres at Chester-le-Street, Wakefield in West Yorkshire, and Eastbourne, in Sussex.

The towns are part of wider proposals to boost the number of Bannatyne Fitness operations from 25 to 40 by the end of next year.

The club in Chester-le-Street is being built on the site of Durham County Cricket Club's Riverside cricket ground. The expansion marks a further £15m investment for the company, which opened its first health club in the North-East in 1997.

Each £5m health club will create 30 new jobs and provide state-of-the-art health and fitness facilities for 3,000 members in a high quality setting that is the hallmark of Bannatyne's Health Clubs.

The first stage of the expansion programme began recently with construction under way at Stepps near Glasgow, which will open this year.

A further three clubs, which will be named later in the year, are expected to open in January 2004.

Duncan Bannatyne, chairman of the fitness chain, said: "Bannatyne Fitness has a very ambitious outlook, which will see us expand to 30 clubs by the end of 2003 and 40 by the end of the following year.

"In less than ten years we have established a strong brand and a high quality product, which is attractive to the areas we bring our health clubs to."