Fewer companies feel the quality of the natural environment is satisfactory, casting a shadow over the city's overall positive business image, a poll revealed yesterday. The annual survey, carried out by ACNielsen on behalf of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, found only 34 per cent of the firms felt the city's environment was 'very satisfactory' or 'somewhat satisfactory', compared to 45 per cent in 2004 and 39 per cent last year. The figure was one of 14 indexes in an all-around assessment of the city's business environment. Chamber president Jack Maisano said: 'The environment is neither a corporate issue nor an investment issue. But it may influence investors when they make some crucial decisions, such as the location of the company's headquarters.' The business outlook survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 per cent, collected questionnaires from 213 companies based in Hong Kong and overseas in October and last month. Ninety-eight per cent of interviewees gave a 'satisfactory' rating to the overall business environment in the city, compared with 96 per cent last year. Geographic location, communications networks, infrastructure, free-port status and free flow of capital are still the city's top five attributes towards an excellent business environment. About two thirds of respondents rated the economic outlook for the next year as 'good', with the remainder rating it as 'satisfactory'. Half the companies said they would hire more staff and expand their businesses in Hong Kong over the next three years. Only 8 per cent planned to gradually downgrade their branches in the city. The survey found the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland had not brought the benefits many expected. A quarter said they had not gained from the arrangement, which includes reduced business entry costs to the mainland, improved level of market access and overall return on investment on the mainland.