Housebuilder Barratt Group surprised the industry on Tuesday when it announced that chief executive David Pretty would retire at the end of this year, aged 62.

Pretty will be replaced by Mark Clare, who, as managing director of Centrica's British Gas residential energy business, comes from outside the industry.

Clare, 48, joined British Gas in 1994 and became Centrica's finance director in 1997 before taking on his current role.

Pretty become chief executive of Barratt in 2002 after the sudden death of his predecessor, Frank Eaton, in a car crash.

Since then he has continued Barratt's strategy of organic growth, and under his charge the company has secured a steady expansion in pre-tax profit and volumes, despite a challenging market in recent times.

In the year to 30 June 2005, pre-tax profit was £406.6m, up 11%, on turnover of £2.5bn.

During his time at the Newcastle-based company, Pretty founded a London office, and in 1985 he also sold a house in Dulwich, south-east London, to then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Pretty said: "I've had a tremendous career. Of 40 years within the housing industry, 27 of those have been with Barratt."

He added that he had no intention of stopping work:

"I won't retire and tend the roses. I have no specific plans at the moment but hope to be active on the housing scene.

Shares were unchanged at 927.5p after the announcement on Tuesday.