IT IS a symbol of Southampton that has towered over the city for almost 80 years.

But when a violent storm hit the city on Christmas Eve, it caused such extensive damage to the iconic Civic Centre clock tower that it has been out of action ever since.

And now cash-strapped city council bosses are facing up to paying £350,000 to restore it to its former glory.

The storm on Christmas Eve blew off a third of the building’s copper roof, while one of the tower’s main beams was also damaged, putting its bells out of action.

An enormous cherry picker was used for engineers to assess the extent of the damage in January, and the Labour city council’s Cabinet is set to rubber-stamp a programme of urgent repair work at a meeting today.

The council is unable to claim any of the money back on insurance, as civic chiefs say the building is not insured as it was not “cost effective” to take out a policy.

The works will include replacing about a third of the copper roof, repairing the bell and bell-frame and major stone and steelwork repairs.

If the plans are approved by the Cabinet today, work is expected to begin within the next few months.

A huge scaffold, almost as tall as the 156 foot-tall tower, will be put up to allow builders to carry out the work.

And a council report has warned that the project is “liable to change as there is a significant possibility that further unforeseen and urgent works will be discovered once there is access to the exterior of the tower”.

With the council having agreed £14.4million of cuts and the loss of almost 100 jobs last month, it is an extra financial burden civic bosses could have done without.

But council leader Simon Letts said: “It is the symbol of Southampton in many ways, after the Bargate, and we are duty-bound to preserve it for future generations.

“We carried out a thorough inspection of the tower after the damage to the roof and discovered that one of the beams that holds the bells up is broken, so their familiar chimes have been silenced since Christmas.

“Once the scaffolding is up we will be making the most of the opportunity to do 20 years’ worth of repairs and get the job done properly.

“Luckily, some of the money will come from a surplus left over from the recent Civic Centre refurbishment.”