Arguably the most important part of the new build process is planning permission. The seriousness of failure to achieve and comply with planning permission cannot be over emphasised. This week’s news of a family being forced to have their home demolished serves as a stark reminder of the power wielded by the planning authorities. The Murray family contracted builders to construct their dream home in Glasgow over two years ago.

But the finished house did not comply with the terms of the planning permission granted, and the local council have ordered that the house be demolished. Given that they paid £164,000 for the building plot and the construction cost £300,000, this is devastating news for the family. The council have stated that the house “differed considerably” from the approved plans (six feet higher, four feet wider and nine feet longer, with an unapproved balcony).

Planning permission is granted subject to certain conditions. A breach of these conditions is not illegal. However, it will usually result in the council either allowing the owner the opportunity to seek retrospective permission, or the council may issue an enforcement notice. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence.

An enforcement notice can demand that you revert things to their original state, for example if you were to replace wood framed windows with UPVC windows without permission, this might be deemed unacceptable and you might be ordered to put wooden frames back in. In the worst case scenario, an enforcement notice could require the demolition of a new extension or even an entire building, as in the case of the Murrays. To make matters worse, you can also be issued with a fine – up to £20,000 in the magistrates court or unlimited in the crown court. The Murray family have been ordered to pay the demolition costs of £11,500. You have the right to appeal against an enforcement notice, but if you are unsuccessful you must comply with the notice.

Some would say it is a crime to demand that a building be demolished, and it is undeniably wasteful of resources, but planners would argue that it needs to be made absolutely clear that people are not permitted to deviate from agreed specifications.

Plans should always be discussed with the local planning authority and building control department before any work begins. Andrew Murray trusted his builder and architect to adhere to the terms of the planning permission granted, but they failed to do so and he is paying the price. The case demonstrates the importance of owner involvement in overseeing building projects. Alternatively, employ an architect or project manager and formally delegate responsibility through a contract.

Whatever the moral rights and wrongs of the situation, the planning authorities have the law on their side, and they have shown they are not afraid to use it.