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Physical Environment

Desired Outcomes

The natural and built environment in which people live is clean, healthy and beautiful. Everybody is able to access natural areas and public spaces.


The physical environment includes land, air, water, plants and animals, buildings and other infrastructure, and all of the natural resources that provide our basic needs and opportunities for social and economic development.

A clean, healthy environment is important for people’s physical and emotional wellbeing. At a fundamental level, elements such as clean air and good quality drinking water are vital for people’s physical health. Other environmental factors such as noise pollution can cause both physical harm and psychological stress.

The cleanliness and beauty of the environment is also important for people’s sense of wellbeing. A healthy environment provides recreational opportunities, allowing people to take part in activities they value. For New Zealanders, the "clean, green" environment is an integral part of their national identity. They see guardianship of the land and other aspects of the physical environment as an important part of social wellbeing.92 This image is also vital for the health of New Zealand’s economy. It is a key contributor in attracting tourists and it underpins the nation’s success as an exporter of primary products.


Two indicators are used in this chapter: air quality and drinking water quality. Because of a lack of adequate data, there is no direct measure of people’s access to natural areas and public spaces.

The two indicators provide an insight into current and future wellbeing. They relate to the health, cleanliness and beauty of the environment. Pollution in the air or water can have significant adverse effects on people’s health, as well as being detrimental to the beauty of the environment.

The first indicator measures the levels of fine particles in the air at certain sites. Fine particles are known to have a harmful effect on people’s health. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels has been linked with the aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.

The second indicator measures the percentage of the population receiving drinking water that complies with either the 2000 Drinking-water Standards or the 2005 Drinking-water Standards. Poor-quality drinking water can create health risks from water-borne diseases and contaminants. It is also likely to be associated with poor-quality sewerage infrastructure and electricity supply.