Astrid Pérez was sworn in as Mayor of Arrecife in mid-June, after one of the least expected pacts to follow the local elections. It’s the first taste of real power for a woman who has become one of the best-known faces in Lanzarote politics .
Congratulations, alcaldesa. Many people were surprised when the pact between the Socialists and your party, the PP, was announced following the elections, given the eternal rivalry between these national parties. Is it such a strange arrangement?
Not really. This isn’t the first time there’s been a pact involving the PP and the Socialists on Lanzarote – it happened in 2011 in this Ayuntamiento and the Cabildo, as well.
Is it true that part of the reason for the pact is a general agreement of the need to remove the Coalición Canaria from power?
I don’t think so. We’ve worked alongside the CC several times, and I’m sure we’ll do so in the future. However, I think the citizens of Arrecife wanted a change, and the recent results are historic for the Canaries, where the CC have been in power for 26 years.
You’re the only PP Mayor on the island. Do you think the party is recovering after the years of controversy that followed the oil prospections issue?
On Lanzarote we certainly are – our vote improved considerably here, and we received the best results in the Canaries. But it was never going to be like the PP wave of 2011.
However, the party has lost its Mayor in Tías, Pancho Hernández. Is that a disappointment?
Certainly – he was doing an excellent job, and I hope he can be as helpful in his new job at the Cabildo.
As Mayor of the island’s capital city and the most-populated municipality on the island, what are your main priorities?
Everything. We’ve inherited a chaotic city, where there’s been considerable deterioration in the housing, parks and green spaces and cleaning services. Social services need to be reformed, and the commercial appeal of the city addressed. There is everything to do.
Re-opening the seafront road in Arrecife has been one of your main campaign pledges. But in an era when pollution and car use are rapidly becoming global issues, don’t you think this is a step backwards?
The problem in Arrecife is that it’s been built haphazardly over the years with no real planning, and there’s still no mobility plan here. Lanzarote receives 5 million visitors every year, and hardly any of them ever come to Arrecife. In fact, we’ve scared consumers away from the city centre with the new pedestrian zones, absence of signposts and various other factors.
I’d have loved to have kept the seafront closed to traffic, but Arrecife is suffering and businesses are failing. Perhaps that’s not entirely to do with traffic – online shopping is also destroying high streets everywhere – but we need to do what we can do turn that round. 82% of local people were in favour of reopening the seafront in a recent poll, and if we want to change Arrecife from being one of the poorest island capitals with one of the highest unemployment levels, we need to act.
What else needs to be done?
We need to give the city a good clean; we need to renovate the square in front of the church of San Ginés and the parks on the seafront, we have to conduct a survey of housing and revise the listed buildings in the capital, we need to improve lighting and we need to draw up a general plan for the city. It’s like moving into a new house which is in a real mess – there’s so much to do.
Do you think you can achieve it in four years?
No. It would take eight at the least.
You and Cabildo president Loli Corujo are the only women in charge of institutions on Lanzarote. Do you think things are improving in this respect?
I hadn’t really thought about it. I’m surrounded by women in my team here, and as the youngest President of the PP on Lanzarote, I think I’m part of a trend towards rejuvenating the party. Other parties are also improving, while some, such as the Coalición Canaria, seem to present men all the time.
With 61,000 residents, Arrecife’s population is more than three times higher than any other council area on Lanzarote, and it has been the island’s most important city and capital since the mid-19th century.
Named after the reef that makes it the perfect mooring place for ships, Arrecife is still of huge cultural importance to the island. This month, for example, its stunning beach at Reducto and its picturesque lagoon, El Charco, will host open air events to celebrate the city’s patron, San Ginés.