There have been no applicants for a $200 million loan fund set up to help owners of old commercial buildings improve fire safety. The scheme has been unused since it took effect on June 1, according to the Fire Services Department. This is despite the department's estimate that owners of about 20 per cent of the 500 pre-1973 commercial buildings were likely to apply for the loans. Public consultation had shown while most owners wanted to improve fire safety, most could not afford it. Acting senior divisional officer Ho Nai-hoi said the department had taken every opportunity to promote the scheme. 'We have explained the scheme to the people concerned during our inspections, seminars and forums. Pamphlets with details were also sent together with our directions,' he said. His team has inspected 191 commercial premises including banks and shopping centres and 19 pre-1973 commercial office buildings. Senior sources in the department said the owners, who were relatively well off, might be reluctant to go through the complicated loan process. 'The owners have a relatively high earning power. They may not want to go through the process if they have the financial ability.' Under the scheme, borrowers, who have to provide security such as bank guarantees or mortgages, have to repay the loan within three years with interest at the average best lending rate. Chan Bing-woon, member of the Central Steering Committee on Fire Safety, said he was surprised to learn of the lack of response. 'People may not be aware of the scheme. But it's more likely that there is no party to take the lead. 'Owners are too scattered and it will be extremely difficult to decide what fire safety facilities should be upgraded and who should be in charge,' he said. He said a building management company or manager should be appointed to lead improvement work. 'Otherwise, any loan scheme cannot be fully utilised,' he said. The loan scheme was prompted by the 1996 Garley Building fire in which 49 people were killed. Owners of 500 commercial premises such as banks, shopping arcades and department stores may apply. The law requires all 400 old commercial buildings and 500 commercial premises to complete the upgrades in three years.