This simply allowed me to be, as the press office of Tower Hamlets would have it "sweeping and opinionated" and "bilious" in respect of the future of our town centres and high streets.
To my huge relief, I found that the audience (there were about 40 people there, almost all town centre managers) were both hugely engaged and hugely well informed. They were refreshingly down to earth and had no truck with the nostalgia lobby. And they were rather angry (if not bilious) themselves. Very invigorating to spend time debating with them.
There was a huge recognition of the imperative of market forces and to deal in evidence bases and hard metrics (Matthew Hopkinson and his Local Data Company's ears should have been burning). And I came away thinking that, for 40 town centres in the UK at least, there was hope and vision. And something of a fighting chance.
One theme that emerged (from the lady from Leicester) was the beneficial effect that the directly elected mayor had had on the city centre there. There was not enough time to unpack this sufficiently for my taste, but I would urge that in the next round of government response to Portas (or somewhere else appropriate) CLG or someone should include consideration of the effect that directly elected mayors have on town centres.
Certainly there was a view, admirably expressed by Cllr Scott Naylor of the London borough of Richmond, that you had to build political consensus to "drive the politics out of the town centre debate". It was fascinating. And I am glad that I went.
I had to run up the road quickly after that though, as I was then due in Bristol to the launch of UKR in the West Country, courtesy of my good friends at DAC Beachcroft and Jones Lang LaSalle, and with none other than the wondrous George Ferguson as the keynote speaker. What a privilege to share a platform with that man. What an inspiration is his bequest of the Tobacco Factory to the people of Bristol! And how wonderful that we are so on the same page.
George is the favourite to win the campaign to be directly elected mayor in Bristol, the only one of 10 cities to have achieved a yes vote in the referendum a few weeks ago. He describes Bristol as a "laboratory" for mayoralty in a provincial city and this chimes with my own wording of a "controlled experiment".
As I was saying, I would be keen to see CLG compare and contrast the relative uplift in fortunes of the likes of Bristol, Leicester (with a mayor) and Liverpool with Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester (without) at an appropriate point in the medium future. But we must get back to hard metrics again.
Let us hope that George prevails in Bristol in November. And not just because he loves regeneration. He eschews any political allegiance, he wishes to take an entirely pluralistic approach to building the best possible team from all parts of all spectrums, and he is passionate about the city of Bristol and its people. And he would know how to be creative and clever in the use of the general power of competence.
He has a way to go and, no doubt, vicious party politics will rear their head (and I'm not entirely sold on the red trousers myself), but George espouses all the qualities needed in a mayor. And he's a laugh. He is staging a "Bristol 1st Summer Jamboree" at the Creative Common Big Top by Temple Meads at 6.30pm on Wednesday 4 July (Independence Day!). I would urge anyone in the region to go along.
But whatever happens, UKR would very much like to bring some investment into a mixed-use regeneration scheme into Bristol to support the general economic strategy. Much as in Nottingham, and in Sheffield, the palpable strength of the team spirit there has completely won us over.
I was particularly impressed by Michael Bothamley of DAC Beachcroft in his enthusiasm for the new LEP; this is a man who is clearly not in the business of wasting his - or anyone else's - time, so it must be a potent force indeed. The Bristol community is a resolute bunch of folk, intent on delivering local economic growth. And I salute them.