A PROPOSAL which would have protected the now-crumbling Comet paddle steamer with a £165,000 canopy was scrapped in the wake of advice from former bosses at Ferguson's shipyard.

A £180,000 refurbishment job was carried out on the famous Port Glasgow icon at the yard ten years ago but plans for the shelter were later dismissed on cost grounds.

It has now emerged that those in charge at Ferguson's at that time suggested a cut price solution of installing a tonneau cover over the deck.

Since then the vessel — an exact replica of the original 1812 paddler which became Europe's first commercially successful passenger steamboat — has rotted away to the extent it is now beyond repair.

Council leader Stephen McCabe today declared that it was 'vital' Comet — and the maritime heritage she represents — is restored and told the Telegraph that the money-saving solution was a 'false economy'.

Mr McCabe added: "At the time there was a lot of debate on how the vessel could be protected from the elements.

"Council officers had proposed a protective canopy at a cost of £165,000, although it was recognised that this wouldn't provide full protection from the elements.

"This proposal came in for criticism due to the cost and advice was received from Ferguson's that a more cost-effective solution would be to install a tonneau cover over the deck at a fraction of the cost.

"Sadly this has proven to be a false economy."

Naval architects appointed by the council have concluded that any attempt to repair the current vessel would be 'pointless'.

Years of neglect have rendered her completely derelict and she now sits funnel-less and decayed in the centre of Port Glasgow.

Architects I K Macleod & Associates — who carried out a thorough inspection of the vessel last November — say a brand new hull is now required.

They say Comet's machinery, which is completely seized, could still be saved and recommend that any new vessel should be housed in a climate controlled building.

The cost of constructing a new Comet has been estimated at up to £750,000.

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

Councillor McCabe said: "I am very disappointed that the replica of the Comet appears to be beyond economic repair.

"While it should be remembered the replica is now 58-years-old, I had hoped that when we spent £180,000 on having it refurbished by Ferguson's in 2010 its life would have been extended for significantly longer than 10 years.

"The Comet is an important part of Port Glasgow's history.

"As a Portonian, for me it is vital that we now look at how the replica can be refurbished and once more put on display in a prominent location in the town."