The basement gym and pool
Among those who contributed to the pounds 1bn spent on keeping fit last year there are bound to be backsliders who never so much as sat on an exercise machine. How much easier, then, to be strongminded when the pool and gym are a floor rather than a hike away. Penny Jackson goes in search of fitness fanatics in new housing developments.

As is obvious from the brochures, developments with their own leisure facilities use them robustly in the marketing material. Some live up to their promise but others are simply a useful way of filling a space in the basement that cannot be used for homes.

Nevertheless, even a cramped gym and small pool go a good way towards meeting the expectations of overseas residents, particularly Americans. They may not use them, but they like to know they are there. In an area where there are good health clubs it is less likely that developments will provide facilities themselves.

Not surprisingly some of the best came with the 1980s expansion into the then desert-like Docklands in east London. At that time swimming pools went in with little thought about how they would affect service charges.

Since then residents have discovered that the upkeep and heating of a reasonable size pool can push service charges up by pounds 1,500 a year, according to Tom Marshall of Cluttons estate agents.

"The fewer the flats the more expensive it becomes and it is not economical on a development with fewer than 100 flats," he says. "Nobody walks in to ask for a flat because of the facilities, but they like the idea of something being thrown in if it doesn't cost too much. Anyway, the trend seems to be to get out and socialise."

On a small development, Gill Lamprell at Knight Frank would expect a pounds 3,500 service charge to drop by a pounds 1,000 if the pool were to be removed. She points out that economy of scale means that a large scheme such as the 420-unit Metro Central in Elephant and Castle, in south London, with pool, gym and steam room can keep annual charges at around the pounds 1,300- mark for a two-bedroom flat.

At some flats, tenants began to find the charges creeping too high. At London Wharf, for instance, on the canal in Hackney, east London, residents elected to close the initially popular exercise area and save money. Given the cost of joining health clubs, if in-house facilities are good enough to tempt residents away from the kudos of club membership they will get their money's worth.

Luke Doonan, from Savills' Docklands office, lives in the Bow Quarter development converted from the old Bryant and May factory in east London. He exercises almost every day. "I work late a lot and find it easier to go straight downstairs than take my kit to work and go to a club," he says. There are aerobic classes here every evening and it can get manic."

As one of the largest developments in London - 733 units - it has the usual 24-hour security, full time gym staff, as well as a pool, steam room and so on, and yet keeps service charges down to pounds 1,400 for a two- bedroom flat and pounds 1,000 for a one-bedroom loft. "It's also very sociable", Mr Doonan adds. "There's a bar close to the gymnasium and it always has people sitting down there with towels round their heads."

For the focused fitness enthusiast such distractions may be of little interest but many young buyers who work long hours do not want to exercise in lone splendour, however convenient.

At Anchorage Point, built in the 1980s on the Isle of Dogs with a particularly nice pool and large gym, no one is fighting over the rowing machines.

Bob Irwin, the building manager, says that it never gets crowded there. "The most I've seen in the pool at once is six. Obviously the complex, which is open from 6.30am to 11pm, is used more in the evenings and weekends but it's generally quiet. The Bank of China use it more than most, since its a bit of a novelty." The service charges for a two-bedroom flat in the complex are just over pounds 3,000.

At the 116-flat Caledonian Wharf, Rotherhithe, where Bob Irwin has also worked, it is rather a different story. The collonaded and self-contained leisure complex faces the Thames, in the centre of the U-shaped development. The glass on three sides makes swimming a more public affair. "It was very sociable and lively there," Mr Irwin recalls. "Pool parties were popular. I only once had to a put a stop to one when it threatened to get out of hand." A two-bedroom flat there costing pounds 175,000 would have a service charge of pounds 2,231.

The advantage of size is all too obvious when it comes to the Canary Riverside and Millennium Harbour developments under construction in the London Docklands. At Canary Wharf, tennis courts and a health club, spa and swimming pool complex on the river bank are part of the package for those who buy there.

On the other hand, the equally ambitious Millennium Harbour will have state-of-the-art leisure facilities that will be open to membership from non-residents. That is a trend which smaller developments are beginning to favour.

In Wimbledon, south-west London, Espree Health Clubs is running the leisure complex on the entire ground floor of Pathfinder's Wimbledon Central scheme. Those who buy one of the 104 units will get a year's free membership, worth about pounds 1,000. After that, they can choose whether to contribute to the pounds 1bn keep-fit industry, which is expected to grow by a further pounds 250m this year.

Canary Riverside: 0171 591 2388 Millennium Harbour: 0171 488 9586 Wimbledon Central: 0181 946 0081

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