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A survey of immigrants shows 45 percent of them have been attracted to where they live in New Zealand by a better physical environment and access to nature than in the country they left.
"In Auckland, home to the country's largest migrant population, the attractiveness of the physical environment and access to nature was even higher - at 55 percent," said Business Council for Sustainable Development chief executive Peter Neilson.
"Perhaps our message offshore should be 'life's a beach in New Zealand'," he told the Resource Management Law Association's annual meeting in Christchurch, which was considering the potential for re-shaping of governance of fresh water management.
"We need to make sure we maintain and improve the environment," Mr Neilson. "The benefits ripple right through to managing skill shortages, putting up incomes for everyone in New Zealand - and better competing with the world".
The business council runs an online survey panel, ShapeNZ, and Mr Neilson said that a nationwide survey of 460 immigrants in August-September showed proper environmental management was critical to attracting skilled migrants who, in turn, contributed to the country's economic and social development.
Asked to select any or all of a range of factors, the environment had greatest attraction (45 percent), followed by a safer society (41 percent), better weather (36 percent), better job opportunities (35 percent), lower crime (32 percent), better health and education services (30 percent) and a more cohesive society (19 percent).
Mr Neilson said earlier council surveys had shown that, of all New Zealanders, about 5 percent thought that environment or economy was all-important, about 20 percent were struggling to survive and said they had no time to think about issues like this - and 70 percent wanted both economic growth and an improved quality of life.
"This involves growing the economy while preserving the nature and social environments," he said.
Broken down according to cities, the survey showed environment was the most attractive factor in Wellington City (35 percent) and Dunedin (56 percent), but it ranked behind better job opportunities in Christchurch (scoring 35 percent compared to 37 percent for better jobs), and Hamilton (52 percent better jobs, 36 percent environment).
The research showed the importance of preserving the environment through resource management laws, said Mr Neilson.
Labour Department research showed the addition of 437,000 migrants over a 15-year period could yield an extra $28 billion in annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021. The department estimated the inflow of immigrants at recent historical levels to be worth around $1.9 billion per year to GDP and $1000 per head of population in 2021.
Attracting skilled migrants, while lifting productivity, also lifted the country's ability to export.