CLOSE to 700 new preschool places have been allocated to the Hunter Region, an increase of more than one-third on the existing 2000 places.The places will allow children in identified areas of need to attend a preschool two days a week in the year before school.There are 65 licensed preschools in the region and, where possible, providers will expand their services, allowing the extra places to be activated from mid-2009.They will be rolled out by the Community Child Care Co-operative, which is providing services throughout the state as part of a $21 million State Government preschool investment and reform plan.A NSW Department of Community Services spokeswoman said it aimed to make preschool equitable and accessible, and to ensure all children who wanted to could access preschool education, particularly disadvantaged children. Community Child Care Co-operative professional support team manager Renate Gerbhart-Jones said a data base and a survey were being developed to help work out where the places were most needed, and who should provide them."We are currently recruiting people with pre-school expertise to work with the services and communities, to work out where the problems are," Ms Gerbhart-Jones said."Where possible we'll work with people who are already there . . . unless the existing provider is somebody people are not going to. "Then we would look at can we work with them to make it work, [and] support them."We are expecting there will be preschools out there who know exactly what it is that they are needing . . . so with these services we will be able to just go in and provide them with what they need to get those extra places up."The expansion of preschool places follows the scrapping of the Young Starters program formerly provided by at least 10 schools in the Hunter, which allowed children aged four when they started school to go to school for a year before officially starting kindergarten.