HALF of the pallets being stored by Belfast council for loyalists building a bonfire beside a busy city centre hotel are owned by a global supply-chain firm.
The Irish News last week revealed the council is holding in storage hundreds of pallets removed from the bonfire site beside Sandy Row.
They are being kept in a council yard and were set to be returned to the pyre near Holiday Inn before the Twelfth.
It led to the council facing accusations of "handling stolen goods" after it emerged many of the wooden pallets are owned by Chep.
The global firm's for-hire pallets, recognisable for their branding and blue colour, are used in its pooling service for retail and industrial supply chains.
The council initially dismissed concerns and said there was "no evidence to substantiate claims made on social media that any of the pallets have been stolen".
But in a U-turn the council has agreed to hand over Chep pallets to the company after it claimed ownership of them.
Councillors are expected to discuss the controversy – and what to do with the remaining pallets – at tomorrow's strategic policy and resources committee meeting.
Several senior councillors have expressed outrage over the local authority storing pallets, with Sinn Féin saying it will oppose any attempts to return pallets to the bonfire.
Belfast City Council initially said some 1,500 pallets were removed, but later admitted a mistake and revised the figure to around 300.
It said staff removed the pallets from the site "in agreement with the local community", and that it "works with communities and statutory agencies to minimise the negative impacts of bonfires at sites across the city".
Asked how many Chep pallets are in storage, a spokeswoman said: "Having now conducted a detailed inventory, we can confirm that around 150 of the 300 pallets removed from the Wellwood Street site are Chep pallets."
The Housing Executive, which owns the land, helped the council in putting the pallets into storage by providing two skips at a cost of £700.
The bonfire site is close to where two tourist buses parked outside the Holiday Inn were damaged in a suspected arson attack earlier this month.