COUNCIL bosses who have left the Comet paddle steamer replica to rot are scrambling to find a cut price solution to her appalling condition — after being hit with an 'astronomical' restoration bill.

The Telegraph understands that a huge amount of money is now required to restore the ship — arguably the most recognisable symbol of the district's rich maritime heritage — to her former glory.

A financial package of £50,000 was earmarked by Municipal Buildings bosses 18 months ago but the only money spent has been £5,000 on a marine architect report which has 'condemned' the Port Glasgow landmark.

Now a councillor fighting to save her has declared that the cash set aside has been dwarfed by the sum suggested in the survey report — a document which Inverclyde Council has refused to release.

Independent member Drew McKenzie said: "It [Comet] is in a deplorable condition and has been left to rot.

"It is not so many years since it was removed for an overhaul at Ferguson's but no maintenance programme was ever put in place thereafter.

"Shortly a report will be presented to the environment and regeneration committee within the council which will suggest that an astronomical figure is needed to restore it.

"Senior officers within the council have not been slow to react to this and hopefully other more affordable options should be on the table soon."

The replica today cuts a pitiful sight in her prominent position in the centre of Port Glasgow.

Such is her dilapidated and decayed condition that she has now had to be stripped of her funnel.

Meanwhile, her wooden hulk continues to deteriorate with each passing day.

The report into the state of the vessel was received by the council last November — four months before the coronavirus lockdown.

The Telegraph asked under Freedom of Information legislation earlier this year for a copy of the document but the local authority refused to release it — declaring it not sufficiently in the public interest to do so.

A council spokesman said at the time: "It is acknowledged that there is a public interest in this matter.

"However, the purpose of the report is to assist officers and elected members to make an informed and impartial decision regarding the future of the Comet replica.

"There is a greater public interest in allowing officers and elected members space to enable all options to be properly considered."

We understand from a number of sources that the surveyor hired to inspect the vessel has condemned her, and this has not been disputed by the local authority.

She underwent a year-long £180,000 overhaul and restoration at Ferguson's between 2010 and 2011.

A plan to install a £165,000 protective canopy over her was approved by the council in 2013, but the shelter never materialised.

The Telegraph told in April last year how 'essential repairs' and repainting were to be carried out on the replica of Europe's first commercially successful passenger steamboat.

The council previously declared its commitment 'to finding a long-term solution to the deterioration of the Comet replica'.

However, there is still no firm date as to when the survey report will finally be put before elected members.

Councillor McKenzie said: "It's part of the town's heritage. ​She needs to be taken care of on an ongoing basis."

The original Comet was built for Sir Henry Bell at the John Wood shipyard in 1812 and she entered service on the River Clyde between Greenock and Glasgow. Writer Sir Walter Scott and world famous Greenock engineer James Watt were among her passengers.​

She was wrecked in strong currents in December 1820 at Craignish Point, near Oban, with Bell onboard. No lives were lost.

An Inverclyde Council spokesperson said: “We’re concerned about the condition of the Comet replica and that’s why we commissioned an experienced naval architect to carry out a detailed examination of the ship.

“We hope to be able to publish a review of the findings soon.

“The process has been subject to a delay in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Following a further inspection of the Comet replica last week, we decided, as a precaution, to remove the funnel for safety reasons."