Permit row could sink swim school


‘Help us survive’: Somerville Swim School owners Evan and Carolyn Russell. Picture: Yanni

SOMERVILLE Swim School could be forced to close if its owners cannot come to agreement with Mornington Peninsula Shire over its hours of operation, class sizes and parking requirements.

Evan and Carolyn Russell who have run the school since 2015, say that while they have been prepared to “compromise, reduce the profitability of our business, and consider future relocation, this has all fallen on deaf ears”.

The couple bought the former Jump Swim Schools franchise in Gwelph Street in 2015 and say their fees included the “fit out and necessary permits to run a viable swim school business”.

“When the franchisor submitted the original permit, we raised concerns with them regarding three conditions,” Mr Russell said.

“These were a gap of 30 minutes between each class; a maximum of four students per class, and opening hours of 8am-5.30pm.

Mr Russell said the franchisor gave assurances the permit would be amended.

Four years later, in April 2019, they were told by the shire that they were operating in contravention of the original permit, which had not been amended.

“We immediately went to our franchisor to get this rectified and were told they would organise the amendment. However, four weeks later, the franchisor was placed into voluntary administration, and in September last year, went into liquidation,” Mr Russell said.

“In late November we were able to negotiate a release, at great expense, from the purchaser of the Jump Group, and became an independent entity.

“Now we are [still trying to] rectify issues with our original planning permit.

“We are not trying to expand, increase [the number of] classes, or class sizes. We are merely trying to continue offering the same service to the community [as] we have for the past four years.”

The conditions the couple is seeking to amend include having no gap between classes (while the council is demanding a 30-minute gap); having six students a class (as opposed to four); and extending their hours of operation to 8pm Monday to Friday (as opposed to 5.30pm).

Mr Russell said the council’s demand of a 30-minute gap between classes would mean cutting 70 per cent of classes.

Mr Russell said operating expenses at the swim school – which employs 12 people – continued during closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic from 23 March.

“All the money we received in the form of government grants to assist small business during this time was used to pay our overheads. There is now nothing left, and we must reopen in the next month if we are to have any chance of our business surviving.”

Mornington Peninsula Shire Council was contacted for comment.

First published in the Western Port News – 1 July 2020


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