Yaiza is probably Lanzarote’s most spectacularly beautiful municipality, home to the beaches of Papagayo, the unforgettable landscapes of El Golfo and Femés, the purring modern resort of Playa Blanca and the sleek Puerto Calero marina.
However, it’s also a place that, in recent years, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. ExMayor José Francisco Reyes is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for corruption, while the last mayor, Gladys Acuña, was also removed from public office after being convicted of granting illegal licences.
Óscar Noda stepped up to the Mayor’s office when that occurred and, last May, he headed the LAVA party which won eight of the 17 seats in Yaiza, allowing him to form a government. Widely seen as one of the rising stars of Lanzarote politics, we spoke to him last month.
You were voted in as Mayor this May, 15 months after stepping into the previous Mayor’s shoes. What situation does Yaiza find itself in?
A promising one, I think. When I started here at Yaiza, as Tax Councillor in 2011, this council was 33 million euros in debt. It was an extremely complicated situation, but we managed to eliminate that debt last year, and after the recent election we now find ourselves in a very different situation.
What are Yaiza’s principal problems?
We’ve always had problems with planning. I think it’s obvious that Playa Blanca simply grew too fast, but we’ve now got a functional general plan, approved in 2014, that offers a viable road map for the future.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that we became associated with corruption. Things have changed now, though, and now the financial situation of the council has been given a clean bill of health, which means we can now look at new spending and new projects.
There are several. First, we’ve started to change the energy model of Yaiza, installing LED lighting and solar panels at Playa Quemada. We’re laying new road surfaces in Uga, Yaiza and Las Breñas; we’re planning to improve rubbish collection; and we’re going to take a closer look at the unbuilt and abandoned works that exist in the municipality and assess what remains to be done.
There are several sporting facilities planned, aren’t there?
The most important is the new Sports Pavilion in Playa Blanca, behind the bus station, which we’ve just been able to approve. It’ll have three indoor courts for basketball and football; a 25 metre swimming pool, two smaller pools, and a gym. There’ll also be an outdoor football pitch in Playa Blanca, which means that people won’t have to travel to the stadium in Yaiza.
What about Papagayo?
We plan to improve the link between the beaches and the Femés road, but that’s mainly to cut down on the dust that gets kicked up at the moment. We’re also looking at preserving the Pozos del Rubicón. This is a site of immense historical significance for the Canaries – where the first contact was made between the natives and the conquistadores, and I don’t think we value it enough.
When will the new harbour extension be finished?
It’s going at a good rhythm, and the predicted date of completion is November 2021, but this isn’t our area and I’m not sure if they’ll get it done by then. 86% of the funds for this project are being provided by the EU, and if they’re not spent we lose them, so they need to be accounted for fast. It will be an important improvement, though, allowing cruise ships to dock at Playa Blanca as well as providing more efficient links with Fuerteventura. We also plan to complete a Secondary School in Playa Blanca, with spaces for 900 children who are currently being transported on 11 buses to the school in Macher. That was a situation that couldn’t go on, so we’re changing it.
In recent years there have been persistent rumours about a new golf course and even a new airport in Yaiza. Are either of those happening?
Not the airport. That was just idle talk, I think. The golf course is contemplated in the General Plan, but there are no actual plans to carry it out yet.
What are the main challenges that Yaiza faces in the future?
Well, Brexit is a little worrying, but we’re handling it OK so far. Also, the withdrawal of Ryanair could be a problem, but we’ve also seen an increase in domestic Spanish tourism. However, these are issues that are out of our hands. What’s important for us to do is to finish the infrastructure necessary to improve Yaiza for tourists and residents, and to widen our tourist appeal beyond the sun and beach model. We want people to see more of the island, and we’ve got some amazing things to show them.