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West Cumbria Mining plans to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees.
West Cumbria Mining plans to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees. Photograph: Simon Evans/Alamy Stock Photo
 A Cumbrian campaign group has given notice to the communities secretary that it intends to seek a legal challenge of his controversial decision to allow a new deep coalmine in the west of the county to go ahead.

Legal representatives acting on behalf of the South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) group have written to Robert Jenrick’s office to notify him of the group’s intention to contest his “ongoing refusal” to call in the mining plans.

The pre-action protocol letter states that, if the secretary of state does not respond to the group’s arguments by 4 March, the campaigners will file for judicial review proceedings.

Jenrick decided not to challenge West Cumbria Mining’s plans to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, in what would be the first new deep mine in the UK for more than three decades, arguing that the dispute would be “best determined locally” and that he would only be likely to intervene “if planning issues of more than local importance are involved”.Environmental campaigners contend that the mining scheme is of clear national and international importance.

“We hope that Robert Jenrick will issue a ‘holding direction’ to prevent Cumbria county council approving the application, and then properly act on SLACC’s request that the decision be called in by considering the information that SLACC and the Committee on Climate Change has drawn to his attention,” said Maggie Mason, a spokesperson for SLACC.

“We are confident that, once the secretary of state actually engages with that information, he will see that the application is of national and international importance, and will appoint a planning inspector to consider the issues.”

The threat of legal action adds to growing national pressure on Jenrick both within and outside the government to call in the mining plans.

The county council announced earlier this month that it would reconsider the decision after the publication of new government guidance by the Climate Change Committee.

Campaigners in the area had feared that local election purdah rules could mean the council’s reconsideration decision would not be made until the early summer. The elections were, however, cancelled on Tuesday – bringing forward the prospect of an earlier council verdict.

Mason added: “Cumbria CC have claimed this is a ‘broadly carbon neutral’ coalmine, based on an assumption that ‘the need for coking coal in the UK will not significantly decrease over the coming decades prior to 2050’.

“This is not compatible with the latest expert evidence provided by the Climate Change Committee in its sixth carbon budget, or with Lord Deben’s January letter to the secretary of state. Yet it seems that Jenrick has declined to consider exercising his call-in power.”

Another legal challenge, meanwhile, is being prepared over concerns a separate local campaign group holds relating to the planned mining activity’s proximity to the Sellafield nuclear site. The group, which has already delayed the project’s start date through pursuing judicial review, says it will await the council’s decision before making its next move.

The government has not yet commented on the application for judicial review.