"A bad Local Plan is worse than no Local Plan"
What Steven asked Cllr Elizabeth Turpin, Deputy Leader of the opposition Conservative Group
As part of our series of interviews with Medway’s elected representatives, Steven went to Gun Wharf to meet Elizabeth Turpin, Deputy Leader of Medway’s Conservative Group in their newly acquired opposition offices. They discussed what you can do with a theology degree, representing Strood Rural, and inevitably the Local Plan.
Where were you born?
I was born in Peterborough, in the hospital, which is in Cambridgeshire, and grew up in a little village called Manea.
What brought you to the Medway Towns?
That would be Rupert, my husband. We met when I was living in Cambridgeshire. He was working there, and he moved down here for a job. He comes from Kent anyway, and I left to go to University in Canterbury, mainly because Rupert lived nearby (laughs).
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
My father worked for years in a concrete factory. That was actually owned by Sir Tom Moore at one point, he was his boss for a few years. Then he got made redundant and worked in the mill before being made redundant from there. He had small jobs. I never remember him out of work. Then he got another job in a plastic factory. When I was doing my A-Levels, I ended up doing a couple of shifts a week to earn some money. When he retired, he carried on working, cleaning the local GPs. He has only stopped recently. My mother worked for the local newspaper. After that, she became a receptionist for the local GP and did that for the rest of her working life.
How did you find school and university?
I really enjoyed school. My primary school was pretty small. There were 16 in my year group. They would put several year groups together until the final year, to concentrate on us and get us ready for secondary. I went to a fairly small secondary, and then I moved on to a college to do A-levels. I had some issues with bullying, but it was pretty well handled by the teachers. I remember being unhappy at times, but I had a good group of friends. I went to the University of Kent at Canterbury. I did seven weeks, doing Theology and Philosophy and had a moment of ‘What am I going to do with it?’ I enjoyed A-Level RE (Religious Education), that was my reason for choosing the subject, but what was I going to do? I was quite homesick, but I didn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t help me settle into uni life. So, I decided to try Canterbury Christ Church. They were doing a Theology degree more in line with what I wanted to do because the one at Kent was more New Testament Greek and stuff. And I wasn’t very good at languages at school. I went to Christ Church for five weeks until Christmas and quit completely, which was a big moment. My brother had gone to university, loved it, and done really well, and assumed that was going to be me. I got a job in housing, and they put me through my degree in Housing Studies and paid for it. It covered construction, the law, and the history of social housing. I didn’t want to be an RE teacher or a vicar, so it worked out alright in the end.
Was there any careers advice in sixth form?
At one point I wanted to be a doctor, but I wasn’t good enough at science, so that wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to be a police officer, so I don’t really know why I chose. Like I say, I enjoyed RE at A-levels and that was my reason for choosing. I don’t remember getting any careers advice. It was during a time where, if not expected, you were encouraged to go to university, and it didn’t really matter what subject if you get a degree. I think that was the philosophy behind it.
What was your first full-time job?
I got a job at Chapter School in Strood as a Learning Support Assistant. Although doing school hours and not required to do other work, it probably wasn’t full-time. I was doing 30 hours a week.
What is your official occupation?
I am a self-employed landlady.
How are you finding that in the current markets?
It is getting much more difficult. With the interest rate rises, plus we pay the gas and electricity on our properties. They are houses of multiple occupation, and that has got a lot more difficult in the last few years. We’ve been doing it for about 20 years now and legislation has got a lot tighter. Which is a good thing because there are unfortunately bad landlords out there, so I am sure things needed to tighten up more, but it is difficult when you see yourself as a good landlord. You feel like the one being penalised a bit because whatever the legislation is you will abide by it, but the bad landlords just keep ignoring and doing what they want. We are doing alright, but it is tougher than it was.
Do you think young people, and you have children yourself, will be able to get into the housing market?
With interest prices, probably not. That’s going to need to come back down again. We were discussing this with my eldest. He was saying he wanted to buy a flat, and we were saying you need to start saving. I worry with flats about service charges, you need to be careful. Not that he is in a position to buy. I think prices are stabilising but will wages match that? It’s difficult for anybody.
What additional roles, paid or unpaid, do you do?
I am Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group. I am the treasurer of Uganda Reflex which is a charity my husband set up about 15 years ago to support single parents in Uganda. He lived out there for a while and met people behind the Single Parents Association of Uganda. They have lost a spouse either through Aids or malaria, and we help them with raising their children. I am the secretary for the patient participation group for the surgery that I go to. I am a governor for the school my children went to.
What would an average day entail?
Most mornings I try and get my house in order, so once I’ve done the housework, there will be emails, and my councillor emails. Then I will have my accounts to do for my houses, making sure rents have been paid. I will have calls, either from people wanting to rent, or existing tenants with queries. It is really varied. Then there’s meetings, which can be evenings, so I might come into the council to not to get distracted.
What event or issue first got you involved in politics?
It was a combination. Rupert, because he was already a councillor, would talk about things that were going on, and I’d disagree with him on it, or maybe agree. He was encouraging me to get involved. Also, my youngest son. He was disabled, and he had complex needs. I was taking him to the hospital and be his advocate and fight a lot for what he needed. There were people like Wilbur, not just disabled people, in the community, who don’t have a voice. I just felt I wanted to be that voice and speak up for people. Wilbur would be my biggest inspiration.
When did you join the Conservative Party?
I’m not quite sure, but it must have been around 2010/11.
When did your name first appear on a ballot?
2019. My youngest started school in 2018, so I had the time to represent my ward, Strood Rural. The ward I lived in at the time was Rochester South and Horsted. Rupert was a councillor there, with Trevor (Clarke) and Sylvia (Griffin). They wanted to continue, and I didn’t want to try and force any of them out. When I was looking at selection, I didn’t want to force out any existing councillors. I went where there was a vacancy.
Strood Rural is quite a wide ward. It can’t be easy to campaign.
Yeah, and it’s knowing where the really rural places are. It’s not just Cliffe and Cliffe Woods. There are quite isolated places. Luckily, I had Gary (Etheridge) and John (Williams), and I’ve now come to know the roads and very long driveways. It’s quite a contrast from the centre of Chatham, but I come from a rural area, and I am someone who will do the research and rise to the challenge. Once I was selected, I got myself involved in the community and I love it now.
The rest of the peninsula as you travel east has gone independent. Are you concerned that Strood Rural will go independent?
I think they would have been our strongest contenders if they had stood this time, but I think we have represented Strood Rural well. Our vote share went up. Hopefully that is a sign that we have done a good job.
With the local elections, why do you think the Rochester & Strood Conservative result was what it was?
A big part of it was the boundary changes. I think that’s what affected Rupert in his ward, Fort Pitt. Also, when we were knocking on doors, people were saying it’s time for change, and you get that cyclical thing in politics when a party is in for a length of time. Then regardless of whether they are doing well, they want change. I would ask people what they were unhappy with, and they couldn’t answer it.
It appears to have affected the Rochester & Strood constituency more than the other two. Why?
I don’t know. When you look at Rochester West, it was a real shock when Stuart (Tranter) lost his seat. He was a hardworking councillor.
Can you see a route back for the Conservatives on the peninsula? Winning those seats back from the Independents?
If we start standing up for the peninsula, yeah.
Is that likely?
Well, we have this pressure to build houses, but I don’t think we should be building as many as we are planning at the moment. The government are making changes to top-down housing numbers. It’s easy for me, with my house, to say we don’t need this many houses, but I do think we need to look at what Medway’s housing need is, and what we can do to deliver that. It is a fairly small geographical area, and there is only so much you can cram into it. You only need to travel up and down the A2. You don’t often get to do the journey without getting stuck in traffic jams.
When you look at you look at the consequences of the lack of a Local Plan for the peninsula and Strood Rural, how fair is it to lay the blame for that at the former Conservative administration?
The thing with the Local Plan is it has to be a good Local Plan. A bad Local Plan is worse than no Local Plan. Even with a Local Plan in place, if you aren’t delivering the number of houses the government wants, and insists that you build, you can still get those other developments coming in.
Why are we wrong to say that the removal of HIF (Housing Infrastructure Fund) funding is a bad thing?
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