Ilfracombe’s Landmark Theatre has responded after a row broke out over its toilets being closed to the public.

There has been a storm on Facebook with hundreds of comments after the theatre, which is run by Selladoor, put locks on its toilets with an entry code that could only be obtained by purchasing something or those paying to see a show.

There was an outcry on social media, with many people condemning the action and saying it was unfair on those with medical conditions or with small children, as there were no other public toilets on the seafront.

Now Selladoor has said from Saturday, August 10 it will allow non customers to use the disabled toilet, which will not be code locked, but the main ladies and gents loos will still be locked.

In a statement today, theatres director Dean Stewart said the initial decision to lock the toilets had been taken because it would cost £26,000 a year to clean and maintain them as public toilets.

He said: "When the toilet was open to all, my team were faced with people lying drunk in cubicles, drug users, toilets being left with excrement on the walls and dirty nappies on the floor with a nappy bin a foot away from them.

"I don't want my customers and staff to face this when they visit our facilities and I feel sure most right-minded people would feel similarly.

"Since the toilets in the venue were code locked the feedback from paying customers has been incredibly positive and the toilets are now easier to manage to the standard people have a right to expect."

Mr Stewart said the disabled facilities would provide easy access for parents whose children were caught short.

He said disabled people or those wishing to change babies would take precedence over use of the disabled loos.

He said Selladoor, which has leased the theatres from North Devon Council after winning the operator's contract, was a private company and like any other private company on the promenade was not required to provide public toilets.

The issue was originally highlighted when Cyril Dennis posted on the Gossip Around Ilfracombe Facebook page.

Mr Dennis said in reference to the locked loos: "We love Ilfracombe but will not be going to any further events at the Landmark Theatre.

"As far as I know the nearest Public toilets to here are the disgusting ones at the Pier which is nearly half a mile walk from there.

I don't mind paying to use a toilet, why can't they put a coin machine there as other towns and villages have done.

"This is very poor for a major holiday destination where a lot of elderly and families with young children visit."

The full statement from Dean Stewart, Selladoor theatres director:

If I can ask for your patience, I wanted firstly to bring some clarity to the current situation regarding toilets at the Landmark Theatre.

Selladoor Venues are a private theatre operator, we have a contract with the council requiring us to create a programme of events at both of our theatres that will be of interest to the people in the locale and hopefully beyond. The Landmark for instance is a venue that unashamedly promotes the wonderful local talent we have in the area on our stage and we are very proud to play host to those companies. Likewise, by turning right on entry to the venue instead of left you will find local practitioners using our Pavilion space on a daily basis to facilitate various classes and activities that generally contribute to the health and wellbeing of participants. We believe that this along with our café create a daytime environment that people in Ilfracombe can engage with positively.

As a private company, like every other private company on the promenade we are not required to provide public toilets. This is not because we wish to be difficult or set ourselves apart from the community but simply because we do not have the resource to provide a consistently maintained facility that people using a public toilet have a right to expect and are not tasked or indeed financed to do so by the council. Putting this into dull numbers - it would cost us £26k per annum to employ a cleaner to manage this for us.

When the toilet was open to all, my team were faced with people lying drunk in cubicles, drug users, toilets being left with excrement on the walls and dirty nappies on the floor with a nappy bin a foot away from them. I don't want my customers and staff to face this when they visit our facilities and I feel sure most right-minded people would feel similarly.

Since the toilets in the venue were code locked the feedback from paying customers has been incredibly positive and the toilets are now easier to manage to the standard people have a right to expect.

So, I hope that everybody reading this post will have a better understanding of why we are unable to provide a general public toilet at the Landmark. This aside, I am a great believer in finding a compromise where we can and from 10th August we will allow non customers to use our disabled facility which will not be code locked. These facilities also provide easy access to a mother or father taking their young ones to a non-gender facility, something I think families will appreciate in an emergency. The main Ladies and Gents will continue to be code locked and available only to customers of the theatre to ensure we can always offer the well maintained facility to those people they have told us they appreciate. We have disabled facilities within our main body of toilets but if a disabled customer wishes to use the more private facility we mention then of course they must take precedent, similarly with people wishing to change their babies.

I guess what I am saying to everybody is please work with us and not against us. The Landmark Theatre will only prosper by local people engaging with what we do in a positive way - we won't get it right every time but will always try to ensure we provide a theatre and restaurant space the people of Ilfracombe can be proud to call their own.