PLANS to create a church leaders’ retreat in an area described as “heaven on earth” have been given the green light.

The proposals for Mansefield, at Humbie, were recommended by East Lothian Council planning officials for approval but local councillors John McMillan and Brian Small called for the scheme to be rejected.

In the end, they were on the losing side of a vote, with the Labour quartet of Colin McGinn, Norman Hampshire, Fiona O’Donnell and Andy Forrest, along with SNP Group Leader Stuart Currie and colleague Neil Gilbert, backing the Rev Karl Martin’s plans.

Currently, the building is occupied by Rev Martin, who is senior pastor at Edinburgh’s Central Church, and his family.

The plans show alterations, an extension and change of use of the stable block and extension to the house for short-term hospitality, support and training for leaders in church ministry and for use for occasional small-scale retreats.

A report to committee said: “The applicant advises that the centre will be aimed at church leaders for retreat, training and development.

“It will be used as an extension of the service offered by the traditional Manse.

“It will be for occasional use.

“The accommodation will enable the centre to house 8-10 people for overnight accommodation.

“It is anticipated that typical stays would be of between one to two nights on a maximum of 10 retreats in any given year although it is likely to be less than this.

“The gathering space will also enable the centre to run one-day long events for church leadership teams (anticipated maximum 15 people) once again this will be infrequent (approximately ten days per year).”

Mr McMillan had called for the issue to be discussed by the planning committee, rather than simply being decided by planning officers.

He said there was “a considerable amount” of community opposition to the application and concerns for access if the change of use went ahead.

Mr McMillan – who along with Mr Small is one of two local councillors for the village on the planning committee – moved for the application to be turned down.

The councillor questioned if the application safeguarded the character and appearance of the area.

His ward colleague Mr Small said: “I visited the area on Friday and it was a glorious day.

“Without straying into religion, it was like heaven on earth and a stunning place to be.”

He said it was the sensitivity of the area which had led him to decide not to support the application.

Those remarks came after three members of the public and Humbie, East and West Saltoun and Bolton Community Council urged the committee to go against the recommendation and turn down the plans.

Concerns included that the development would spoil the quiet nature of the area.

One objector said: “As East Lothian swells with new housing developments, consuming yet more hills, we find an ever-increasing number of people finding Humbie Dell in search of that quiet, safe, green place to visit to escape the noises and crowd.”

Mr Currie agreed it was “a stunning place” but questioned if there were any legitimate planning grounds to turn down the proposal.

He felt refusal would open the door for the scheme to go to appeal and potentially be successful.

He said: “I have looked through the planning application, looked through all the details, all the detailed documentation, had a look round the area, looking at the planning officer’s report, looked at residents’ views and the problem I have is that to vote against the recommendation would not be on planning grounds.”

Mr McMillan and Mr Small were joined by Conservative councillors Jeremy Findlay, Sue Kempson and Lachlan Bruce in opposing the scheme.

The six-bedroom 18th century former manse stands within four acres of land, including several paddocks and a principally walled garden.

The stable block comprises three stables and a tack room, with the house built over three levels.

The church, which is based in Edinburgh’s Tollcross, has a “vision to love the city, be family together and follow Jesus”.

Its website says: “Edinburgh is our home and we want to love and serve the people that live in this city. We believe that God’s love can transform lives and communities, and we want to see that happening in the places that we live.

“We are following Jesus. We call ourselves disciples because the most important thing in our lives is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do.”