Hong Kong will retain its status as an international business centre despite concerns over poor air quality and high costs, according to a survey by the British Chamber of Commerce. The survey revealed 97 per cent of members had a positive outlook on the SAR economy over the next five years. However, the 2000 Business Confidence Survey found 96 per cent of members were not satisfied with air quality and 81 per cent said rents were still too high and were not even satisfactory. Christopher Hammerbeck, the chamber's executive director, said concerns over the environment and Hong Kong's competitiveness within the region would not keep big business away. 'They come here to Hong Kong for business reasons, not because of costs or the environment,' he said. The survey comes one day after the European Parliament voiced concern over Hong Kong's ability to provide a level playing field for European Union firms. Mr Hammerbeck said chamber members, whose firms employ 250,000 Hong Kong citizens, did not agree with a report by the parliament that suggested local tycoons wielded 'undue and dominant influence' over the SAR's economy. 'Yes, we have a highly competitive business environment but it is that competitiveness that makes Hong Kong a free-market economy,' he said. Environmental quality concerned 84 per cent of survey respondents while 86 per cent were not satisfied with conservation measures. Mr Hammerbeck said the Government was listening to the business community about environmental issues, as the trials for ultra-low sulphur diesel proved. 'We are concerned about the environment. We just aren't a load of [environmentalists],' he said. Despite the misgivings, chamber members find the SAR an excellent place to conduct business due to communications, geographical location, infrastructure, free-port status and the taxation system. Eighty-seven per cent said Hong Kong's legal and regulatory system was very satisfactory, while 97 per cent said they had confidence in the economy. More than half of the chamber members said it was difficult to get high quality staff and 68 per cent said it was difficult to get people for low wage positions. However, 52 per cent expressed dissatisfaction with present levels of executive and staff remuneration. Chamber members rated Hong Kong very highly for its standard of public security and safety, with 98 per cent responding that it was very or somewhat satisfactory. Twenty-seven per cent were concerned about freedom of the press, compared with 30 per cent in last year's survey.